Orchidarium in Estepona

Opened to the public in 2015, the new Parque Botánico-Orquidario is located in the centre of Estepona, in the new central park. Covering more than 1,000 square metres, the modern building with prominent glass domes attracts the attention of people strolling down the Calle Terraza.

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Estepona’s Orchidarium boasts more than 1500 varieties of Orchids – it’s the largest collection in Europe. In the centre of the vast plants exhibition there are three huge waterfalls which make you feel as if you were in a real rainforest! Stand on wooden bridge just in front of them to enjoy the refreshing coolness of the intense vapour – best appreciated in summer. There is also nice bamboo forest and other rare subtropical species of plants spread across two floors of the Orchidarium. must see for the flower enthusiasts! The entrance for adults is 3 euros. Remember that the Orchidarium is closed on Mondays.

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Roman baths near Manilva

Set in the tranquil and rural landscape between Manilva and Casares, Hedionda Roman baths are the remains of the ancient bathhouse which dates back to the 1st century BC. The structure is still available for use today, free of charge. The remains of the underground bathing facility consist of two chambers –  a smaller outer chamber and a much bigger inner chamber.

Roman baths are not very popular among tourists and most of the time the place looks almost abandoned. However, during hot summer weekends you will find there lots of locals taking advantage not only of the healing properties of the water, but also of the curative mud scrapped from the popular mud wall.

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Follow in Julius Caesar’s footsteps

According to the ancient sources, the sulphurous spring was very popular among both Romans and Arabs. One of the old stories holds that Julius Caesar himself took to the waters on a regular basis to cure himself of a skin infection when he was a governor of southern Spain.

Walking routes

Canuto de la Utrera and Charco del Infierno/Diablo are two spectacular walking routes available for tourists near the Roman baths. The first one takes you into a valley-gorge with beautiful limestone rock formations on both sides. Because of the unusual rock forms, Sierra de Utrera is called by some people ‘small Torcal de Antequera’. The second route leads along the Rio de Manilva, and a couple of times across the river, to a charming swimming pond with a waterfall. It is possible to connect both routes into one 8 km long circular route.

Charco del Diablo near Manilva

Charco del Diablo near Manilva

Getting there

From the coastal A7, take a turn inland at the Lidl roundabout in Sabinillas. Follow the Camino los Baños road. Just before the road passes under the highway bridge, turn slightly to the right on a dirt track. After 200 meters, you will find a small parking space on the left, opposite the old Los Alamos restaurant. Continue on foot until you reach Baños De La Hedionda. The Roman Baths are also easily accessible from the A7 highway.

Alhambra complex in Granada

Generalife gardens in Alhambra

Generalife gardens in Alhambra

Must see before you die

‘He who has not seen Granada, has not seen anything’ says an old Spanish proverb. Another common saying in Spain puts it quite bluntly: ‘It is a great pity to be blind in Granada.’ Alhambra, which means ‘red castle’ in the Arabic, is a vast palace and castle complex of the Moorish monarchs of Granada.Covering nearly 105,000 square meters, it is beautifully situated on a rocky hill overseeing Granada.

Alhambra comprises of Generalife Gardens and Palace (summer place of the Nasrid Emirs), The Carlos V Palace (Renaissance building constructed in 1527), The Nasrid Palaces, the centrepiece of the Alhambra (complex of palaces from the 13th century renowned for detailed ornamental plasterwork), The Alcazaba (9th century fortress) and a few smaller areas.

Inside the Nasrid Palaces

Inside the Nasrid Palaces

Plan in advance and other tips

As the most busy tourist site in Spain, Alhambra requires that you buy tickets well in advance, usually at least a month before a planned visit is needed. Remember to take with you the debit or credit card that you have used to pay for the tickets. You will need it to collect the entrances when you arrive at the site. Before booking, bear in mind that the morning visit is recommended if you want to avoid the crowds.

Getting to Alhambra is fairly easy as you don’t have to enter the city centre. From the Autopista A-44/E-902, Granada’s ring road, take exit ‘Alhambra/Sierra Nevada’. Follow the signs. When you see the road going into the tunnel, get into the left lane which goes to Alhambra (otherwise you will end up on the road to Sierra Nevada). Then, on the big roundabout take the second turn (the one which goes uphill). This road will lead you directly to Alhambra’s parking.

A visit to Alhambra takes at least 3 hours, but inside you won’t find any restaurants or bars, only several vending machines serving coffee, tea, snacks and sandwiches. Remember to take some proper food with you.

Rio Chillar in Nerja

Must-do in summer

Rio Chillar, the chill-out river, is located just five minutes’ drive from the Nerja centre, at the Sierras de Tejeda mountains. It’s a very popular spot for Spanish families. Both kids and grown-ups can enjoy fantastic walk full of splashing in the crystal clear water.

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Step by step

The route down the river starts very inconspicuously as initially the water barely covers your feet. On the sides of the river bed you will see some bushes, rocks and trees. Nothing spectacular. After 20 minutes of walking, the landscape gradually changes. The river enters a narrow gorge and the water starts to get slightly deeper, but don’t worry, in most places it should never reach your knees. The high cliffs provide plenty of shade, making the walk really enjoyable for everyone.

And that’s when the real fun starts! Jumping and splashing around, dipping in one of the several natural pools formed by the river, sitting underneath a waterfall – all these irresistible attractions can be found in Rio Chillar. Your kids will burn all their energy in no time. It takes around 3-4 hours to complete the whole route. However, you don’t need to reach the very end of the river to experience all the joys of Rio Chillar. Enjoy!

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Tips for the trip

A good pair of shoes is recommended as there will be lots of slippery pebbles and rocks under your feet most of the time. If you haven’t got anything suitable, visit a good sports shop with a wide range of light water shoes. During summer weekends Rio Chillar can get a bit busy, try to avoid that time. However, arriving in the morning can be a a good way of avoiding the crowds. Never visit Rio Chillar right after intense rainfall or when there is a forecast of rain as heavy rain causes water levels to rise very quickly.

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Alhama de Granada

The sleepy town of Alhama de Granada, located only 60 kms south-west of Granada, is beautifully located on the edge of a limestone gorge – that’s why the town is sometimes called ‘Little Ronda! From the remaining sides the ancient village offers great views of wheat and olive fields and far off views of stunningmountain ranges.

Alhama de Granada is famous for the Balneario – ancient hot Arab baths in the spa-hotel located in the vicinity of the village.  The thermal springs are especially recommended for rheumatic diseases and problems with respiratory tract. Also worth seeing in the village is the 1st century Roman Bridge, several churches including Parish or Mayor Church of Santa Maria de la Encarnacion and Conventual Church of Carmen. Have stroll around the town to discover more historic buildings. One of the recommended walking routes is a hike through the gorge. In the Los Tajos gorge, you can find some free thermal pools.
If you are travelling from Malaga to Granada short detour to Alhama is a must. If healing properties of the spa waters is what interests you, a weekend visit or longer is recommended. Try to avoid coming in July and August when the heat can be a problem.
A 15 min drive away from Alhama de Granada, you will find the beautiful vast Bermejales reservoir with sandy beaches, great water quality and amazing conditions for swimming or kayaking – much recommended as well for a summer family day!

Best beaches near Andalucia

Top beaches in south Portugal

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1. Albufeira beaches – located around 90 kms from the Spanish border. One of the most popular beaches in Portugal located in the touristy Albufeira. The city boasts a number of restaurants, beach bars, kids facilities, shops and most importantly easily accessible wide beaches. This makes Albufeira a great choice for family holidays. The Albuferia beaches are well-known for fine golden sand and stunning coastline full dotted with fancy cliffs.

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2. Olhos de Agua beach – located around 85kms from the Spanish border. Stunning beach famous for amazing tall cliffs and spectacular sand. The beach is accessed by wooden steps. Olhos de Agua beach offers amazing views from the top of the cliffs – great spot for photographers.

3. Quarteira beaches – located around 78 kms from the Spanish border. Fantastic wide long beaches, with long promenade, located in the city of Quarteira which itself provides plenty of entertainment and shoreline accommodation to the tourists. The Quarteira beaches boast several breakwaters which make the water very safe for swimming. Another top spot for summer family holidays.

 

Top beaches on Costa Calida in Murcia

1. La Manga strip in Mar Menor – located around 95 kms from the Andalucia border. The Minor Sea is Europe’s largest lagoon and the La Manga beaches have been dubbed ‘a heaven between two seas.’La Manga boasts shallow and warm waters, perfect for young kids and older people. There is lots of restaurants around and a nice promenade. La Manga can get a bit busy in the summer in which case head for the nearby and much quieter Los Narejos beach.

2. Calblanque beach – located around 100kms from the Andalucia border. Situated in the nature reserve, Calblanque Natural Park, the beach stretches for more than 13 kms. The beach is quite popular among nudists and is characterised by wildlife, golden sand, sandbank sand rocky bays. If you are looking for a perfectly tranquil unspoiled beach, that’s one of the best places to go on Costa Calida. To access the beach take exit 800 on the A7 road between Alicante and Cartagena.In general, it is quite difficult to access.

3. Bolnuevo beach – located around 40kms from the Andalucia border. The 1,5 km long idyllic beach located in a small fishing village, just 6 kms from the town of Mazarron. Well-maintained, almost unspoilt. The Mazarron area boasts more than 30 km of amazing beaches full of small bays and cliffs, waiting to be explored.

 

Setenil de las Bodegas

Setenil de las Bodegas village view

View of Setenil de las Bodegas

Setenil de Bodegas is a small Spanish ‘cave town’ located in the heart of Andalucia, near Ronda. This sleepy pueblo blanco is located deep in a river gorge and it’s famous for unique houses which are built into the rock.

It’s worth to walk all around this white village, up and down, as different viewing points allow to see the curious dwellings and rock formations in a different way and then to take most incredible photos.

This small forgotten village is also famous for chorizo sausage. There are a couple of nice restaurants and bars in the village and the inhabitants are very friendly and helpful.

We do not recommend driving to the very centre of Setenil de Bodegas as the streets might be too narrow for your car to turn, and reversing on those narrow steep streets often turns into a real nightmare! Setenil is recommended for half day trip – well-worth a detour when visiting Ronda.

Setenil de las Bodegas dwellings

Setenil de las Bodegas dwellings

Columbus’ Boats & Museum in Huelva

Muelle de las Carabelas

Muelle de las Carabelas

Columbus Ships and Museum

Located not far from Huelva, there is a museum dedicated to Cristopher Columbus and the discovery of America. Whether you are interested in history or not, you will surely enjoy the visit in this atmospheric place.

The museum is full of costumes, paintings and other items that vividly illustrate the atmosphere of the 15th century Spain. Of course, there are also 15th century travel documents, maps, navigation instruments, ship weapons and some insightful anecdotes that allow visitors to understand the ship-board life during Columbus’s voyages.

Columbus at work

Columbus at work

The museum lies directly next to a small lagoon which is home to the exact full-size replicas of the 3 ships which Columbus used to his voyage to Americas in 1492. The place is called Muelle de las Carabelas. It is possible to get on board and explore the three caravelles in detail: the smallest Nina, the middle size Pinta and the biggest one, Columbus’ flagship the Santa Maria. The walk aboard can be quite exciting as tourists are allowed to wander wherever they like.

Visiting Columbus Caravel Dock Museum is a great idea for a fun family day. It’s likely that small kids will be bored in the museum, but they should love the three vessels. Remember the museum and the ships dock are always closed on Mondays. Also if it’s rainy, the ships might be closed for safety reasons as the decks can be very slippery.

Columbus ship

Columbus ship

Columbus Monastery

In the vicinity of Columbus museum lies the La Rabida, the Franciscan monastery where Columbus took refuge between 1491-92 waiting for his first voyage west, to Indies, which turned into the discovery of the New World.

It is possible to visit the place which consists of several rooms with artefacts and documents that relate to Columbus and his journey. The place has remained unchanged for more than 500 years – it’s very well preserved. The museum is surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Entrance to La Rabida monastery

Entrance to La Rabida monastery

El Torcal

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El Torcal Park is a nature reserve located near Antequera in Andalusia, only 40 mins drive from the Malaga airport. It’s famous for amazing and strangely-looking Jurassic age limestone formations. The highest point of the nature reserve is Camorro de las Siete Mesas at 1336 metres.

Getting to El Torcal

Whether you choose to drive from the direction of Antequera or Villanueva de la Concepcion, the road to El Torcal is full of amazing atmospheric scenary. The El Torcal Centre consists of a medium size parking and visitor’s building.

Like walking on the moon

Wandering around the geologically stunning El Torcal is like being on another planet. Under the sea until 150 million years ago, this land was suddenly pushed upwards around that time. Over millions of years she slow but continuous natural forces of wind, snow and rain have shaped the limestone into weird structures. The limestone rocks take most outwardly shapes connecting with each other at funniest angles. Some look like a stack of plates, others remind of a hat, a monster or a human face – depending on the imagination of the person who looks at them.

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El Torcal de Antequera offers a couple nice walking routes – a green one of 1,5 km, a yellow one of 2,5 km and a red one of 4,5 km – both for the beginners and experts looking for a challenge. Even if you pick the shortest green route you will be able to see plenty of mind-boggling rocks and some wildlife as well, e.g. mountain goats climbing the rocks, foxes hiding in the bushes or vultures circling over the rocks. Additionally, there are two viewing points offering some great panoramic vistas near the car parking.

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Pick the right time

A good tip for photographers is to come very early in the morning when the light is softer and creates nice shadows. There is also a little bit of fog in the early hours of the days which adds to the spiritual side of Torcal de Antequera.

Another tip is to come in spring or autumn, when the sight is less crowdy, and you can enjoy the nature even more. El Torcal can be very hot in July and August. Try to avoid wet season when El Torcal is full of mud and slippery rocks, and even good shoes will not make the walk enjoyable.

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Oasys Mini Hollywood

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Oasys Mini Hollywood is a Wild West town theme park, one of the three Western desert parks located near Almeria. The entry price is 22 Euros for an adult and in our opinion it represent best value for money. What makes a difference between Oasys and the other two nearby studios, Fort Bravo and Western Leone, is that the visit to the large zoo which is also included in the price of the Wild West ticket!

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As you start exploring the authentic looking western town with a stunning mountain backdrop, you can have a closer look at the 18th century houses or pop into the local bank, church, various shops or even local cemetery at the town’s outskirts. It’s all very atmospheric and instantly takes you back in time whether you want it or not! You can also buy one of the many souvenirs or head to the town square to take a photo on the horse next to a friendly cowboy. There is plenty of attractions and fun all around the place!

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The main attractions, which always draw crowds, are live shows, both played twice a day: a pleasant to the eye can-can show staged in the Western-style saloon and a bank robbery show featuring gunfights and some chilling cowboy-style fist fights.

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Lights, camera, action!

The famous Tabernas desert, in the middle of which the Oasis Mini-Hollywood is located, was once a favourite location for many film makers. In 1960s and 1970s, in the golden era of the European Westerns, many film producers preferred to shoot their films in the Spanish desert instead of going to the distant America or Africa. That’s because Almeria’s desert bears lots of resemblance to the stereotypical image of the Wild West. Three studios were created at that time: Texas Hollywood, Mini Hollywood, and Western Leone. The Italian film producer, Sergio Leone, shot “A Fistful of Dollars” as well as “The Good, or the Bad and the Ugly”, both starring Clint Eastwood, on the Tabernas desert. The Tabernas desert is occasionally used today for some smaller productions.

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More than ordinary zoo

If seeing all the attractions in the western villages took you more than half a day, the rest of the day needs to be reserved for the unique zoo which is also part of the Oasys Park. You will find there lots of species which you won’t find in many zoos. There is a white tiger, lions, Iberian bear and many more. The enclosures for animals are very spacious and ingeniously made. Also, in the summer season the swimming pool complex is opened allowing you take off the heat quickly.

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