Road trip In Andalusia - South West Itinerary
There are endless opportunities when you venture on a sweet off-season road trip through the provinces of Seville and Cádiz. The southern most part of Spain is cherished for having some of the most scenic sights, from nature reserves to ancient towns with lyrical names. As travelling slow is the best way to experience Andalusia, it may be about time that you consider a road trip to discover the two main provinces in the south west of Spain, Seville and Cádiz.
SEVILLE AND CARMONA
Give yourself 3 days in the Andalusian capital Seville. This is the largest of the autonomous region of Andalusia and hosts some of the most fascinating cultures and history in Spain. Although the city dates far back to Roman times, an invasion by the Moors in the eighth century left a cultural mark that characterises the city today, in addition to the Visigoths, the Jews and Phoenicians. To base your stay, make sure you book your stay in one of the many converted 17th - 18th century mansions (Hotel Alfonso XIII, a Luxury Collection Hotel) with traditional arcade patios or the Hotel Casas de la Judería which houses thermal baths, swimming pools, piano bar and other facilities. Crossing the threshold of this hotel means immersing yourself in a Seville known to only a select few. The property comprises of 27 traditional houses with 134 different rooms which are linked through 40 patios, gardens and a labyrinth of small passageways. For an authentic riad-style experience where you can unwind, we recommend boutique hotel Corral del Rey. The architectural highlights are the atrium patio, Roman marble columns and the original wooden carved beams; all this fine art work accentuated by a unique Lutron controlled lighting system. It is also situated in a narrow street in the old quarter of Barrio Alfalfa, five minutes walking distance from the Seville Cathedral.
When headed downtown you can grasp views of the Guadalquivir river. The monumental Torre del Oro (Golden Tower) is beautiful, it was built by the Almohad dynasty in order to control access to the city via the river. Opposite the river, past the Triana bridge is the popular neighbourhood of Triana. This area breathes genuine flamenco music and the sounds of clapping and OLE! can be heard as you past some dancing schools. The Altozano square, the lane of the Inquisition, the main Market of Triana, the Church of Nuestra Señora de la O, Casa Anselma and Betis street are some of the sights that can't go unseen.
The Real Alcázar de Sevilla (The Alcazar of Seville) is divided into sections dating from a succession of eras: Moorish (11th-12th century), Gothic (13th century), Mudejar (14th century), and Renaissance (15th-16th century). The Alcazar was used as a location for scenes in season five (2015) and six (2016) of the hugely successful HBO TV series Game of Thrones, standing in for the Water Gardens of Dorne. The palace has also been used to shoot the NBC TV series Emerald City, based on The Wizard of Oz, in late 2015, broadcasted in 2016. To skip the queue at the Alcazar, you can book online for a service fee of 1 euro, in which you can buy your tickets in advance. This is really useful if you want to visit the Upper Royal Quarters of the Alcazar. At the Alcazar, you can find the Renaissance palace, and the House of Trade where Columbus signed his contract with Queen Isabella. Expect to find many Italianate features, marble arches and columns that were added in the 16th century. Also there is the Palace of King Don Pedro I, with a facade which harmoniously marries Moorish features - horseshoe arches, Arabic lettering ("No one is victorious but Allah") and Christian words (the very noble Don Pedro ordered these Alcazares built"). Inside you will find the mesmerising Patio de las Doncellas, with its sunken gardens, painstaking arches and long pool.
The famous Plaza de España (located in the Maria Luisa Park) was built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929. It is a landmark example of the Regionalism architecture, mixing elements of Moorish Revival (Neo-Mudéjar) styles of Spanish architecture. The Plaza de España has impressive architecture. Due to this phenomenon, many films were shot here, such is the case of the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002) and The Dictator in 2012.
The Palacio de la Condesa de Lebrija is open everyday, unless otherwise noted, and is located in Calle Cuna nº8. It is over 2000 square metres large and you have the choice to visit two floors or only the ground floor. It was a mansion vinculated in the 15th century, with many years of maintenance and historical findings. You can also visit the ground floor and gardens of the Palacio de las Dueñas. The upstairs entrance is off limits for visitors, as the palace is the private family residence of the Dukes of Alba. It was Cayetana's (18th Duchess of Alba) favourite residence, in which she loved to celebrate birthdays and family gatherings before she passed away at the age of 88 in this very palace. Her eldest son Carlos Fitz-James Stuart and Martinez de Irujo inherited the title Duke of Alba.
33 kilometres north east of Seville, you can find Carmona, an old town built on a ridge overlooking the central plains of Andalusia. The town is known for its thriving trade in wine, olive oil, grain and cattle, in which we recommend buying artisan goods in any of their dozens of local shops. Venture through the tree-lined avenue of Alfonso XIII and head to the Seville Gate (Puerta de Sevilla) , a well conserved piece of history from the Carthaginian origins, with remains of the Roman additions and altered through time in the Middle Ages by the Moors and Christians. The town of Carmona has over a dozen churches and convents, which we especially recommend visiting the Convento de Santa Clara to buy artisan sweets made by the nuns. The Baroque architecture is beautiful and should be admired from both the inside and outside.
Additionally, this town is best known for its Andalusian cuisine, in which they do a Ruta de las Tapas (Tapas Route). Bars and restaurants that participate are marked with blue and white signs. Do try the tasty salmorejo, chickpea soup, gazpacho, partridge from the mountains, and the queso Payoyo, a tasty cheese made from goat and sheep milk in the sierra of Cádiz (Grazalema to be exact). We tried the mollete, a typical bread handmade with flour, water, salt, yeast and sesame. This is a bread of Arab origin, where in the nearby town of Marchena they integrate into their daily meal. Carmona gets this bread from the town of Marchena, and sometimes fill their sandwiches with lamb, pork spread and even ham with cheese. Interestingly, Carmona produces a famous pink gin called Puerto de Indias.
Do not miss the impressive former Arabian palace of the fourteenth century, the Parador de Carmona. From the look out of this hotel, you can see the beauty and tranquility of the surrounding landscape. The exquisite gastronomy and restaurant (former refectory), offers beautiful views of the swimming pool area and is under the luminous Andalusian skyline. The historical elements of Arabic decoration such as the tiles and ceilings will remind you of what was once the Andalusian territory, in addition to medieval gauntlets and armours in glass cases serenading the communal areas of the hotel.
ARCOS DE LA FRONTERA
On your drive from Carmona to Arcos de la Frontera, head in the direction of Utrera and ride south through the rolling green Andalusian hills. You will come across El Palmar de Troya and The Palmarian Catholic Church of the Carmelites of the Holy Face. This is a division of the Catholic Church, which can be admired from the road. The grandeur of the church will give you goosebumps, with its eye capturing architecture.
Keep driving south until you arrive to one of the most attractive inland beaches in Bornos. At the reservoir of the same name, the water is supplied from the river Guadalete. Downtown Bornos is a complex of historical artistic monuments, where you can find picturesque monuments such as Los Ribera Castle Palace, the Fontanar Tower and other 16th century buildings. Even if you are not going in the town for a stroll, at least make a stop at the road to admire the views of the reservoir in the distance with the mountains in the back drop.
Located nearby Bornos you can reach the pastoral area of the white washed town Arcos de la Frontera. This is situated on a hill top in the district of the Sierra de Cádiz, with surrounding views of the countryside. There are little pockets of lakes around the Arcos Reservoir, where you can bathe in the warmer months or practice outdoor sports such as water skiing, kayaking, hiking and fishing. We recommend parking your car in any of the available spaces (can be frustrating as it is steep) and walking up to the Mirador de la Peña Nueva. Here you can enjoy some of the best panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes and see the Guadalete river that runs all the way through the town of El Puerto de Santa Maria. The only down side to this viewpoint is that the sun tends to always point at the direction of the people taking photographs, making it difficult to be instagram-friendly. On the other side of the mirador is the Peña Vieja, which is always in the shade. Here you can enjoy the views in a café with a terrace with a glass that protects you from any possible fall.
COSTA DE LA LUZ
For the remainder of your road trip through the south west of Spain, it is important to know about some of the towns that make up the Costa de la Luz (Coast of the Light). This is best identified as a stretch of towns and natural reserves running from the beginning of the Guadiana River on the Portuguese-Spanish border down to the small town of Tarifa, almost opposite of the water from the Moroccan city Tangier. The province of Cádiz has very active summer months with tourists, especially in some of the beach towns like Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Chipiona, El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz, Chiclana de la Frontera and its exclusive urbanisation of Novo Sancti Petri, Conil de la Frontera, Barbate, Zahara de los Atunes and many others.
The Costa de la Luz is much more than just beaches, there are also natural protected areas of the Doñana, Bay of Cádiz, cliff and marshes of Barbate, Tinto and Odiel, arrow point of El Rompido, lagoon of El Portil, marshes of Isla Cristina as well as important cultural points such as: Baelo Claudia Roman ruins in Bolonia, Cape Trafalgar (where the Royal Navy decisively defeated Napoleon's combined Spanish and French fleet), or the steep white villages of Medina Sidonia and Vejer de la Frontera.
The white washed town of Vejer de la Frontera makes for a good base for a road trip. It is less than two hours from Seville and one hour from Cádiz city. We recommend boutique guesthouse Casa Bonhomía, as the friendly Dutch owners will cherish you with such genuine hospitality and make sure you have everything you need for your stay. With only 6 rooms, you will have a lot of privacy in addition to enjoying the facilities. Downstairs is a hammam and there is a kitchen area where you can make yourself something to eat or even store some of your food and drinks for when you go back on the road.
Only when you travel slow through the south west of Spain will you ever get an authentic sense of the place. To get to know this part of Andalusia properly, we recommend booking a tour with Genuine Andalusia. The team behind the tour agency are based in Seville and Jerez de la Frontera. They organise in-depth travel itineraries that suits your holidays.