Southern Spain is famous, and rightly so, for its sun, sea and sand.
There is, however, far more to this region than just lazing on the beach.
Venture to inland Andalucia just a little way, and you will find many Southern Spain destinations that many don’t realize still exists:
…one where old men sing flamenco from the doorways of bars, young men still stroll their horses through the town and where you can enjoy spectacular scenery unlike any you will see on the coast.
Alhama de Granada
Midway between the cities of Malaga and Granada, perched alongside a deep gorge, is what was reputedly the first Spanish town in Granada to fall to the Christian reconquest of Spain.
Alhama de Granada’s attractions lie in its traditional Spanish small-town atmosphere, the gorge which runs alongside the town, the spectacular views over the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the nearby hot springs.
To enjoy this town to its fullest, stroll its narrow streets and stop occasionally in one of the many small bars; walk alongside the river at the bottom of the gorge; or take a warming dip in the nearby hot springs, which lie just a short walk, or even shorter drive, outside of the town.
To get to Alhama de Granada, take the A92 north from Malaga or the A92 south from Granada. Exit on the A402 to Alhama.
Baeza and Ubeda
Baeza and Ubeda are two neighboring towns about one hour drive from the city of Jaen and are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
These two towns have an almost Italian feel and contain a wealth of Renaissance architecture including palaces, grand squares and ornate churches.
In Baeza, make sure to visit the Plaza de Leones, an elegant square surrounded by stunning Renaissance architecture; and the Palacio de Jabalquinto, now a functioning theological college.
While in Ubeda, do not miss the Palacio de las Cadenas, now a municipal building, and the Capilla del Salvador, a chapel designed by notable architect Diego Siloe.
To get to Baeza and Udeba, follow the A316 north from Jaen.
Approximately one and a half hours north of Malaga, Iznajar sits high on a hill and is one of the many typical Pueblo Blancos, or white villages, that are scattered around Andalusia, but with a twist! As well as the usual hill-top location, winding, cobbled streets, and ancient church, this town has a beach.
Some years ago the Spanish government constructed a huge reservoir in the area, the largest in the region. This reservoir, the Embalse de Iznajar, encircles the hills on which the town is built, necessitating the building of a bridge and isolating it somewhat.
It also, however, gives the town’s residents a superb vista and several beaches, the most popular and beautiful of which is Valdearenas Beach.
To get to Iznajar, take the A45 and then A92 north from Malaga. Exit on the A333 to Iznajar.
The town of Guadix is roughly 50 minutes east of Granada and worth visiting, primarily, to venture into the Barrio Santiago.
This part of the town is made up of caves which have been carved into the rock and house hundreds of people. Many of the caves’ inhabitants offer tours around their surprisingly light and airy houses for a nominal sum and, if you choose to stay the night, there are several “cave-hotels” in the area.
Also of interest in the town is Guadix Cathedral, which dates back to the 16th century and was designed by the previously mentioned, Diego Siloe.
To get to Guadix, take the A92 east from Granada. Exit on the A294 to Guadix.
Between the cities of Antequera and Malaga lies the Sierra del Torcal mountain range, where you can find one of Andalusia’s most stunning, but lesser-known, nature reserves.
Millions of years of wind and rain have shaped the limestone rock that makes up the park into unusual, almost Daliesque, formations. That gives the landscape an eerie feel only enhanced by the park’s many lizards and snakes.
Other wildlife within the park is somewhat sparse due to the harsh conditions, but you are likely to see both the majestic Spanish Ibex and some of the many Griffon Vultures.
To get to this nature reserve, head north from Malaga on the A45 towards the village of Villanueva de la Concepcion. From here the reserve is clearly signposted.
Considering the wealth of easily accessible attractions, many Southern Spain destinations are still remarkably unexplored by foreign visitors, most of who choose to spend their vacations on the coast or in the cities.
This means that prices are lower, and towns and villages are free from crowds of sightseers and authentic Spanish life allowed to continue unhindered. Venture into the interior of this fabulous region to take advantage of others’ reluctance to stray from the beaten path.