The southernmost province of Spain was under Islamic rule for the longest time. El-Andaluz" reached world historical importance under the Emirates of Córdoba and Granada. For centuries Jews, Christians and Muslims lived peacefully together. Science and medicine reached their first heyday long before the Italian Renaissance. The reign of the Moors and the age of tolerance in Spain were ended by the Reconquista in Granada in 1492. However, the influence of Muslims can still be felt everywhere today: the best known are the Alhambra in Granada, the Mezquita of Córdoba and the Giralda in Seville. But also the folk dance Flamenco has its roots in the Moorish culture.
Mighty Moorish castle in the olive groves
From afar you can see the massive castle from the 13th century tower above the city. It was built by the Moorish Caliphs for protection against the Christians. From the tower of the castle chapel one has a wide view over the rolling hills, the city and the olive groves.
The heart of Andalusia
In the year 711 AD, the Muslim Moors from North Africa began their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. This town, formerly known as Anticaria, fell to the Moors in 716 AD and was influenced by their culture, tradition and architecture. It also received a new name: Medina Antaquira. The town later became an important border city during the period of the Reconquista. This is attested to by the Moorish fortress, of which only impressive ruins still remain. Due to the town's cultural and historical significance for Spain and thanks to its central location at the crossroads between the major Andalusian cities, the town is referred to as the “Heart of Andalusia.”
Winding alleys in white old town
One of Andalucia's most dramatically positioned white villages, Arcos balances atop a rocky limestone ridge, its whitewashed houses and stone castle walls stopping abruptly as a sheer cliff face plunges down to the fertile valley of the river Guadalete below. Declared a national historic-artistic monument in 1962 in recognition of its exceptional architecture and impressive location, the old town is a tangled labyrinth of cobbled streets that lead up to a sandstone castle, the Castillo de los Arcos. As you'd expect from such a spectacular vantage point, there are exhilarating views over the town and the rolling plain below.
Picture-book Renaissance city
In Roman times, this city was known as Beatia Baecula. During the rule of the Visigoths it served briefly as an episcopal see before being renamed “Taifa” by the Moors and functioning as the capital of a small kingdom. In 1227, the city was recaptured for Catholic Spain during the Reconquista. The city's current appearance dates back to the 16th century when Baeza enjoyed its economic heyday. Many magnificent buildings were constructed during this time, including the the University at the Plaza Santa Cruz. The most impressive building dates from the end of the 15th century. The Palacio Jablquinto has a gorgeous facade with diamond-shaped bossages and Gothic pillars. The palace encloses a typical Andalusian patio with a massive stairway.
The seaport southwest of Jerez de la Frontera is located at the end of a narrow peninsula jutting out into the Bay of Cadiz. The fresh air blowing in from the sea provides for a pleasant climate in the hot summer months. Cadiz is believed to be the oldest city in Western Europe. Archaeologists have found both Phoenician and Carthaginian ruins under the city. Hidden behind huge, thick medieval walls, Cadiz presents a striking view when approached from the sea. It also known for its beaches, considered the best in Spain.
Adventurous climbing route
This reinforced climbing path known as the “king's little pathway” leads through the wild gorge of Guadalhorce 100 meters above ground. It was built in 1905 as a means of providing workers at a hydroelectric power plant with materials. Even King Alfonso XIII made it over the route in 1921, which explains its name. After a number of deadly accidents and on account to its poor condition, the route was closed, restored and reopened in 2015. The path is no longer as terrifying as it once was. The new route is made of glas and wood and is actually higher than the old one. If you prefer, you can also secure yourself to a steel cable bolted into the wall with the help of a climbing harness. No more than 400 hikers are allowed to use the route on any given day. (4:30 hrs, 6 km, up: 420 m, down: 250 m)
Historic town on the mountain
The city is strategically located on the Alcores, a mountain range in the central plain of Andalusia. From there you can see all the way to the Sierra Morena in the north and to the summit of San Cristobal in the south. Carmona is one of the oldest places in Andalusia and has been continuously inhabited since prehistoric times. Iberians, Cathagians, Romans, Moors: all have left their traces in the city. Particularly striking is the citadel of Peter the Cruel, in which a Parador has found its place today. From Córdoba one enters the city through the Moorish city gate, which in turn is built on a Roman construction.
Picture-perfect Spanish castle overlooking the Guadalquivir
This castle was extremely important to the provincial capital of Córdoba on account of its proximity to the Guadalquivir river. It was built by the Arabs in the 8th century and was restored by the Christians in the 13th century. It includes a total of nine towers, of which the two most prominent ones on the southern and northern sides can be climbed. These offer the best panoramic view of the plain. The castle's armory, cisterns and walls replete with battlements are still largely intact. Guided tours are also possible.
Spacious bathing beaches, small bays
Spain's Atlantic coastline from the Portuguese border to Gibraltar is known as the Costa de la Luz. Although the region is almost always bathed in light (hence the name “Coast of Light”) it is almost never as hot there as inland because of the constant sea breeze. Endless golden beaches are interrupted by small bays and steep cliffs. Despite its pleasant climate and attractive landscape, the region is not as popular among tourists as the adjoining Costa del Sol to the east.
Paradise for migratory fowl and seabirds
The national park of Coto de Doñana is located in the estuary of the Rio Guadalquivir and is one of the most important nature reserves in Europe. This is due to the countless migratory birds that rest here before crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. Because malaria used to be rampant here in the low-lying marshes until the mid 20th century, this particular part of the coast remained sparsely inhabited. The park includes three ecosystems: wetlands, sand dunes and dry scrubland. It can only be entered in the company of gamekeepers. There is a four-hour tour in an off-road vehicle beginning at the information center. Another way to explore the park is to take a boat trip on the river.
The only pass over the Sierra Morena leads through the picturesque gorge of Despeñaperros. The mountain scenery around the river of the same name is now a nature park where lynxes, wolves, deer and eagles again live in the cork oak forests. Not always has the pass been as peaceful as it is today. In 1212 a Christian army conquered the strategic pass in a bloody battle which eventually led to the downfall of Moorish Andalusia.
Palaces in the frying pan of Andalusia
Écija, the city of towers, lies on the Genil River between the two Andalusian metropolitan cities of Córdoba and Seville in a sun-drenched plain, also referred to – with little charm – as the frying pan of Andalusia. But it is also considered one of the most important art centers in Andalusia, where the aristocracy competed in the 18th century. In the central square, the Paza de España, stand the most important buildings: the Town Hall, the Roman Baths and the Church of San Francisco.
A hike through a rugged karst landscape
About ten kilometers south of Antequera we find the 1,000-acre nature reserve, which protects one of the most important biospheres in Spain and attracts both geologists and botanists. A wild, rugged limestone landscape has been created over many millions of years. A 45-minute trail winds through this jagged landscape.
Modern sculpture park
This sculpture park covers 75 acres and features a permanent exhibit of modern and contemporary sculpture. Artistic events and temporary exhibits are also frequently held here. A visit to the park can be combined with a walk through the nearby Parque Natural de la Breña y Marismas del Barbate nature reserve. The park is closed on Mondays.
The town on the plateau Hoya is one of the oldest on the Iberian Peninsula. Noteworthy is the cave town: Troglodytos is located south of the historical city centre and is easily noticed form a distance by the conical hill with the whitewashed chimneys and facades behind which large caves have been excavated into the soft rock. Nowadays many artists live here. At the center of the town is the Cathedral built on the foundations of a mosque.
Through the pines along the most beautiful coastal cliffs in Andalusia
The coastal cliffs between Barbate and Lox Caños are among the most beautiful sections of coastline along the Gulf of Cadiz. At the top of the imposing sandstone cliffs is a large pine forest. The trail will take you though a nature reserve, and if you like, you can head back via a route through the hinterland. The hike will only take two hours if you choose to stay on the initial trail. (4:30 hrs, 17 km, elevation change: 230 m)
Where Columbus started his first voyage to the New World
The province of Huelva is famous as the starting point for Columbus' first voyage to the New World and many subsequent voyages. Important “Columbus sites” include Palos de la Frontera, the port from which Columbus departed with the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria on August 3rd, 1492; Moguer, home to the Nino brothers who donated the Nina for the famous journey; and the Rábida Monastery, where Columbus lived for two years before finally receiving the support of Ferdinand and Isabella with the help of the Franciscan monks.
Arab castles and Christian churches in the midst of endless olive groves
The town in the shadow of a massive castle is the seat of a bishop and the center of the world's greatest olive-growing region. The endless vistas of olive groves are particularly striking in the hilly districts to the south. The ancient Carthaginian village was conquered by the Romans in 207 AD, but remained an unimportant outpost until strong growth began under Moorish rule in 712 AD. Jaén subsequently played an important role in the Reconquista: the troops under the command of the Castilian King mobilized there in preparation of the attack on Granada. The most important site in Jaén besides the castle is the 16th century Renaissance cathedral.
Sherry, Flamenco, thoroughbred horses
Most of the tourists who come to Jerez are interested in sampling the famous wine known as vino de Jerez, or sherry, which can be tasted and purchased in the numerous “bodegas” (wine cellars and shops). The city just north of Cádiz is also known for horse-breeding and flamenco dancing. These combined attributes are celebrated in a three-week autumn festival that takes place just after the grape harvest. Travelers merely looking for a pleasant place in Andalusia to take a stroll and enjoy a good meal will hit the mark here.
Renaissance city and gateway to the Sierra Cazorla
This city has just under 35,000 inhabitants and lies in the western part of the Sierra Cazorla. It surprises visitors with its perfectly conserved Renaissance old town. In the 16th century, Úbeda was in fact one of the leading Spanish cities involved in the spread humanistic ideas. The importance of this “Andalusian Salamanca” can be most clearly seen at the Plaza de Váquez de Molina, where the city's most magnificent buildings stand. However, the Moorish palace known as the Alcázar has fallen down the steep valley of the Guadalquivir. From here you can admire a clear view of the scenic Sierra Cazorla.
White village near the Costa de la Luz
This is the most beautiful of the “white towns” and is located nine kilometers from the coast. Six centuries of Moorish rule have left their mark here. Gleaming white houses line the narrow cobblestone alleys and stairways. The old town is surrounded by a town wall measuring two kilometers in length. Overlooking the town is the Castillo, a 10th-century Moorish castle that was later expanded by Christians who admired its clever design.