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

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!

Wicky Wild Wild West

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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Best beaches in Cabo de Gata

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Natural Park Cabo de Gata boasts several marvellous beaches.  Devoid of the massive tourist development, the spectacular Cabo de Gata park has managed to preserve it’s natural beauty and it’s virgin beaches are real pearls.

Amazing mountain views, colourful cliffs, volcanic rock formations, sub-desert lunar landscape, both pebbled and sandy beaches and crystal clear water. All this you will find on the Cabo de Gata coastline.

Most popular beaches in Cabo de Gata

1. Los Muertos beach – northernmost of the beaches in Cabo de Gata. The access to the beach is very difficult, definitely not suitable for elderly people. You need to park your car on the top of a hill (the fee in summer season is 4 Euros) and from the parking place there is a 1 kilometre long trail down the rocky slope which leads straight to the beach. It takes around 30 minutes to reach the beach.

The northern side of the beach is dominated by nudists, the southern part is for other beach goers. The water is crystal-clear, but the waves can be big sometimes. Because the beach is located in a very remote place it’s never overcrowded. In fact, off-season it is mostly empty.

There are no beach bars or any other facilities at the beach, so don’t forget to bring plenty of water as well some sun protection. There is no sand, only pebbles everywhere, which makes the water crystal-clear and very enjoyable.

Tip for photographers: the best view of the Los Muertos beach is available from the balcony viewpoint towering over the beach. There is a very steep path connecting the balcony with the beach, so if you are a fit, you can try reaching the beach this way.

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2. El Playazo beach – is located near the village of Rodalquilar. Unlike many beaches in Cabo de Gata, this beach can be accessed very easily by car which makes it a great family beach. The narrow half paved half dirt road (no stones) leads straight to the small parking place at the beach. In high season most people park their cars along the road. The beach features ruins of the eighteenth century San Ramon’s Castle.

The small northern part of the beach, divided from the main beach by big rocks, is popular among the nudists. The main beach is or the regular beach goers. The water is very peaceful and shallow everywhere, so the beach can be recommended to the families with kids. It’s a sandy beach, another argument to bring your kids here!

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3. Monsul beach – is located in the southern part of Cabo de Gata, past the village of San Jose. This sandy beach with nice shallow water has no beach facilities as it is located in the nature park.

Playa de Monsul is a volcanic beach boasting some amazing rock formations. On sunny days the oddly shaped rocks give plenty of shade to the beach goers. The unique beauty of the beach made it popular among film directors and producers of commercials. For example, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade by Steven Spielberg were filmed here.

To access Monsul beach you will have to drive a couple of kilometres on an uneven dirt road punctuated with small rocks. Drive very slowly, or else it will be a nightmare for you cars’ suspension, unless you are driving an SUV.

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4. Los Genoveses beach – the access road is the same as to the Monsul beach, luckily, however, much shorter. Turn left at the first fork in the dirt road to get to the Los Genoveses beach, the path on the right leads further to the Monsul.

Los Genoveses is a very long sandy beach, great for families with kids as the water is shallow and warm. No beach facilities are available. It’s often frequented by nudists. Playa Los Genoveses is located about 2 kilometres from the village of San Jose, so you can also get there by local bus (2 Euros), but you will still have to walk some distance from the bus stop.

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5. Cabo de Gata beach – nice beach located south of the small town Cabo de Gata, only 20 kilometres from Almeria. The beach is easily recognizable by a big fenced lighthouse, and it’s very easily accessible as there are no hills around. The parking is located almost on the beach itself. The town’s paseo maritimo with two or three restaurants is located some 200 metres form the beach. It’s a calm pleasant beach with very few people coming here even in high season.

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6. Las Salinas wetlands – it’s not exactly a beach, but the place deserves a closer look if you are nearby on the beach. If you are a birdwatcher this is a must stop. It’s located just next to Cabo de Gata local beach.

The place is a resting place for all kinds of birds, both migrating and resident, nearly 100 species. In summer, the lagoon swarms with migrating Greater Flamingos which can be quite a sight. There are a couple of observing points located around the reservoir and the whole place is fenced to make sure you do not disturb the birds.

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Medina Sidonia

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Medina Sidonia is picturesquely located on Cerro del Castillo, the highest elevation of the region which generally tends to be flat in that part of the province. The town is conveniently located half an hour’s drive from Cadiz and Jerez de la Frontera, however, it still remains unspoilt by tourism even in high season.

Rich history of Medina Sidonia

As one of the oldest cities in Europe, Medina Sidonia was founded between 1300 and 700 BC and was later occupied by Phoenician settlers. In the 15th century Medina Sidonia belonged to the family of Guzmans. It was one of the most prominent and affluent of the noble families in the medieval Spain. Under the Guzmans, Medina Siodnia reached its greatest splendour.Medina3_400x630 The seventh Duke of Medina Sidonia is remembered in the history books as the man who led to defeat the Spanish Armada of 1588. Medina Sidonia was also the Andalusian capital of sweets, especially known for the Alfajores, cakes made of almonds, hazelnuts, honey and spices.

From the Middle Ages, Medina Sidonia remained important ducal seat. Today it’s the official seat of Luisa Isabel Alvarez de Toledo, the 20th Duchess of Medina Sidonia.

Tourist attractions

Medina_630x400The most popular attractions in medina Sidonia include the 13th century Castle, Church of Saint Mary the Crowned, Arab Castle of Torrestrella, impressive Ducal Stables, 17th century Town Hall as well as beautiful Plaza de España. It is also worth visit local restaurants offering great tapas and traditional Spanish dishes.

Los Canos de Meca

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Los Canos de Meca is a quiet little seaside village located between Barbate and Conil de la Frontera. Sandwiched between Atlantic and large pine forests and cliffs, the village seems a little secluded from the outside world. The name of the village – caños – comes from the fresh water springs that emerge from the nearby cliffs. Los Canos de Meca is also quite popular among nudists.

Western side of Los Canos

Los_Canos_Faro_de_Trafalgar_beach_630x400Once you are in Los Canos de Meca, you will quickly notice a tall white lighthouse that overlooks beaches in the western part of the village. It’s the landmark of the famous Cape Trafalgar, where the Battle of Trafalgar was fought in 1805. In the sea battle that lasted less than three hours, outnumbered and outgunned, Admiral Nelson defeated the combined forces of the French and Spanish Navies. Because of the defeat, Napoleon abandoned his plans to invade Great Britain which soon became the world’s dominant colonial power.

Los-Canos_de_meca_Lighthouse_at_Cape_Trafalgar_630x400Another reason to visit Cape Trafalgar are some nice seashore rock formations on  Playa del Faro de Trafalgar, popular among nudists. Cape Trafalgar provides a great view of the Zahora beach to the west .Zahora beach is a beautiful tranquil and wide beach with golden sand, shallow water, perfect for families and most importantly never overcrowded. The main beach in the western side of Los Canos is the long east-facing Marisucia beach, located along the way to the lighthouse. It is popular among both families and young people, however tends to get a bit dirty after seaweeds are washed onshore by strong Levante.

Eastern side of Los Canos

Los_canos_de_meca_Zahora_beach_630x400The eastern part of Los Canos boasts a small cosy beach closer to the centre and a wider beach backed by cliffs on the outskirts of the village. From here you can also go for a hiking route that leads up through the pine forest to the old watch tower Torre del Tajo nestled on a 100 metre tall cliff. Once you reach the top you will be rewarded with magnificent views of the sunny coast and sensational cliffs. From the top you can also hike down to Barbate.Los-Canos_de_meca-Local_beach_630x400