STE’s Holiday Editor, Tony Taylor, reports on his experiences driving around Andalusia.
We had holidayed in Southern Spain on a number of occasions in the past, but always stayed near the beaches to keep our children happy. Now, as senior travellers with our children grown up, we were free to explore inland locations in Andalusia.
Planning the Tour
Starting from Málaga, we planned to drive around for 12 days, travelling about 2-4 hours between hotels and staying for 2-3 nights at each. Hotels were booked in Granada, Baeza, Córdoba and Jerez de la Frontera. Following that we chose to stay a relaxing week at a timeshare in Bena Vista near Estapona. Finally, we planned to spend a couple of nights exploring Málaga before flying home. A total driving distance of about 1,000 km.
We chose to travel in April which is a relatively quiet time of the year for tourism; however the weather then can be a bit inclement – as we found out!
We had a hassle free flight from East Midlands Airport to Málaga with Jet2 but on arrival it took nearly two hours to collect the hire car booked through Holiday Autos. All the car hire companies had similar long queues.
Granada via Nerja
We broke the drive from Malaga to Granada for refreshment at Nerja. The Balcón de Europa viewpoint in the old town provides spectacular views of the coast.
We had problems finding the Hotel Darabenz in Granada even with the GPS. It turned out that it was a few miles from Ganada, near the village of La Zubia. This quiet, fascinating hotel was an old converted priory, with only 11 guest rooms, modern in style. It was reasonably priced at €81 per night, including breakfast and parking. We had an excellent evening meal at a lovely tourist-free (except for us) bar in La Zubia.
The Alhambra was the highlight of our visit to Granada. We had read about it in an earlier posting on this site and it lived up to expectations.
A word of warning! We had not realised how fully booked the Alhambra gets. Three-quarters of the tickets are available for sale in advance, with long queues for the remaining ones and no guarantee of getting one. We tried to book tickets on the official site three weeks before departure, but they were all sold. These only cost €9 for EU nationals over 65. The only tickets we could get in advance were the Granada Card Basic costing €33.50 each, although this did include entrance to a number of additional attractions such as the Cathedral and two monasteries, plus some bus rides.
The magnificent Cathedral proved well worth a visit, although car parking nearby was a problem.
Baeza and Úbeda
In Baeza, a two hour drive from Granada, we stayed in the Hotel Campos de Baeza. This is a fairly new hotel – quiet, lovely views, free parking and just 5 minute walk from the town centre. We found Baeza to be a delightful small town with pleasant squares, lovely old buildings and excellent views over the olive groves to the mountains. The cathedral was surprisingly sumptuous for a small town, and the entrance fee was reduced for pensioners (jubilados).
We drove the short distance to Úbeda one afternoon. As in Baeza there are some interesting buildings and squares. Unfortunately it rained and also most of the buildings were closed in the afternoon!
The drive to Cordoba took about two hours along good, quiet roads. We stayed at the Ayre Hotel Córdoba on the outskirts, with free parking and free shuttle bus to the City. The hotel was disappointing compared with our first two hotels, being rather busy, noisy and having a poor restaurant.
We took advantage of our early arrival that afternoon to travel a few miles west of the city to the ruins of the Medina Azahara – an enormous palace complex which was only inhabited for about 80 years! Entrance to the museum and ruins is free to EU passport holders.
The next day we used the shuttle bus and had a stroll around the Juderia (the old Jewish quarter) and on to Córdoba Cathedral. All the guidebooks describe this converted mosque as remarkable, with its beautiful interior including hundreds of striking columns and arches; we were not disappointed. Unfortunately it rained all day limiting our exploration of the city and riverside.
We stayed 3 nights at the Hilton Garden Hotel Sevilla (as recommended in a previous posting on this site – and we found this to be excellent advice!). The hotel was good, with the usual excellent Hilton breakfast, free parking and a laundry room which enabled us to refresh our clothes. The bus stop was just around the corner, with frequent buses to the city centre at €1.40 per trip; we had been warned that driving and parking in the city centre is horrific.
We spent two full days exploring Seville. The weather was good and we used the hop-on-hop-off Red City Tour (two days at €18) to get familiar with the city. Most of the historic centre is within walking distance from the Torro del Oro (Tower of Gold) by the river.
The Cathedral was magnificent; it contains the tomb of Christopher Columbus and has panoramic views over the city from the Giralda Tower. The Real Alcázar (Royal Palace) has extensive well-tended grounds. Seville was definitely the number one city of our tour.
For EU citizens (over 65) there are significant discounts on entry charges, e.g. Cathedral from €9 to €4 and Royal Alcázar €9.5 to €2.
Arcos de la Frontera, Jerez de la Frontera and Cádiz
We made a brief refreshment stop at Arcos de la Frontera. The lower part of the town was pleasant with some excellent shops – according to my wife! We then decided to drive up towards the higher part of the town and found ourselves in very narrow streets (we even had to pull in the wing mirrors of our Seat Ibiza) and it was a long unpleasant drive to get back to the normal roads.
In Jerez de la Frontera we stayed at the Hotel Jerez and Spa, with breakfast and free parking included. The quiet room overlooked the pool and was only spoilt by water running intermittently through the night. The hotel was 25 minutes walk from the city centre, or a public bus ride. We spent the late afternoon and evening exploring Jerez.
We had chosen Jerez as a base from which to visit Cádiz, a compact city on a narrow peninsula, where we had heard that parking is difficult. Hence from Jerez we took the modern, comfortable train to the centre of Cádiz (€8.10 each). The tourist bus tour around Cádiz was not particularly exciting, but included a walking tour. This was through the central part of Cádiz which was much more pleasant and interesting; the bus was unable to enter these narrow streets.
Bena Vista, Ronda, Casares and Benahavis
After 12 days of touring, we headed to a timeshare at Bena Vista, near Estapona, about 30 miles east of Gibraltar for a relaxing week’s stay.
During this time we made short excursions to Ronda, with its spectacular bridge and magnificent views, to the medieval village of Casares, with its narrow winding streets leading up to a Moorish castle and church, and to the pleasant village of Benahavis.
Our last stop was at Málaga, where we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express near to the airport. It had free parking and was close to a bus stop for the city. As we only had a day and a half to explore, we again used the red hop-on-hop-off city tour bus. This enabled us to orientate ourselves, visit different sites of interest and take advantage of an included walking tour of the city. The Alcazabra (fortress) and Gibralfaro Castle were particularly interesting, with the latter providing superb views of the city, harbour and surrounding countryside.
Senior travellers need have no fears in undertaking this driving tour of Southern Spain and will see some magnificent cities and spectacular mountain and coastal scenery.
Throughout we found the roads to be good and generally quiet, providing relaxing driving, although narrow town centre streets are definitely to be avoided!
A bonus for senior travellers is the much reduced entrance fees at many attractions, but do remember to have some form of identity with you which includes date of birth.
For other touring holidays in Southern Spain, see Andalusia Touring Holiday – Malaga, Ronda, Seville, Cordoba and Spain, Alicante to Granada – Touring Holiday, and for a touring holiday further north, see Central Spain: Segovia and Toledo.
POSTED 23rd OCTOBER 2015 by TONY TAYLOR