Let’s say you’ve just stepped off the plane at Malaga Airport into your first blazing hot Spanish afternoon…
Or you’re rattling southwards on the first train you’ve ever taken from Madrid, watching the rugged landscape soften into waves of olive groves…
However you arrive, we’re envious. Experiencing Andalusia for the first time is a life-changing, jaw-unhinging experience. It’s our favourite region of Spain (by far), uniquely suited to the kind of adventures we like to take people on.
For each of us, in so many ways, Andalusia has become home. That’s how it feels.
Maybe you’ll feel the same way.
But maybe right now you know basically nothing about the place.
Maybe it’s just a word (a beautiful, lyrical one that makes your tongue dance as you say it).
Maybe you’re thinking, “Meh, Spain is Spain. Whats the big deal about this part of it?”
Here are seven fascinating Andalusia facts that prove it’s a really big deal – starting with the most obvious one.
1. It’s Huge
In every sense, Andalusia is “southern Spain”. It’s so colossal that it stretches across the full width of the Iberian peninsula, and is the only region of Spain – and the only region in the whole of Europe – with coastlines on both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
You could spend a lifetime exploring this whopping piece of geography, but we suggest you start by visiting each of the eight provinces: : Granada, Málaga, Cádiz, Jaén, Almería, Córdoba, Huelva and Seville (which contains Andalusia’s capital, the city of Seville).
Andalusia is truly massive. So the sooner you get started, the better.
Our adventure travel tours pass through all the following regions:
– The Three Peaks Of The Sierra Nevada (Málaga, Granada)
– Canyoning And Trekking The Sierra Nevada (Málaga, Granada)
– Canyoning, Trekking and Kayaking In Andalusia (Málaga, Granada, Almería)
– Rock Climbing In Andalusia (Córdoba)
– South Spain & Morocco Discovery Tour (Málaga, Cádiz)
2. It’s Where Spain Becomes Everywhere
First there were the ancient, prehistoric peoples of the area. Then the Carthaginians ousted them, before the Romans kicked them out and absorbed southern Spain into their Empire – but not for long, for the Vandals and Visigoths swept through took control, before the Byzantine Emperor vanquished them, just before the Umayyads came from Damascus and renamed the region “Al-Andalus”…
And we haven’t even got started here.
The history of Andalusia can make your head whirl. It’s a dizzying succession of conquerors and civilizations, and every one of them has left an indelible mark on Andalusia’s modern cultural landscape. You’ll see the influence of North Africa’s Berbers in the hillside villages filled with white-walled, flat-topped houses. You’ll see shadows of the Roman villa in the cortijo, the traditional Spanish farmhouse. Moorish influences blend with Catholic & Castilian. Everywhere you look, there’s an enticing story half-glimpsed, ready to pull you in.
Andalusia is Spain – but it’s also everywhere else, including our other favourite Mediterranean destination for adventure. There is an still-unbroken connection between Andalusia and the people who walk the sands of the Sahara – and if you keep your eyes open, you’ll see their footprints everywhere.
3. It’s The Highest Place In Spain
Yes, the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain – and what plains they are. The vast central plateau (Meseta Central) is criscrossed and bordered by mountain ranges, but nowhere does the land rear as high as it does when it reaches Andalusia.
Your first glimpse of the Sierra Nevada will do strange, wonderful things to your breathing and heart-rate.
This is Mulhacén (3,479m), the highest mountain in the entire Iberian peninsula. It’s remarkably climbable, as participants in our Three Peaks Adventure can attest (this picture is deceptive) – but it’s still the highest mountain in Europe outside of the Alps and the Caucasus.
This is Veleta, just a short distance from Mulhacen. As you can see, it’s just as dramatic-looking. It’s the third highest peak on the Iberian peninsula.
Wherever you go in the Sierra Nevada, you’ll be looking down upon the rest of Spain.
(No offence, Spain.)
4. It’s A Whole Different Language
The local dialects of Andalusia, nicknamed Andaluz, have been described as the New Yorker accent of American English, or the Glaswegian of British accents.
5. It’s A Love Affair With Food And Drink
Spanish food is rightly famous. But Andalusian food is legendary.
It’s the birthplace of tapas (singular tapa) – the tiny, super-delicious plates of food that just keep coming until you’re delightfully stuffed. A few decades ago, you’d get a free tapa with every drink in a variety of places across the country. Now that tradition is largely confined to the south:
Andalusia is the birthplace of Spain’s tapas culture, where a free bite of food used to come with your drink as a way of topping it (tapar in Spanish) and protecting it from the elements. While the free tapa has all but disappeared elsewhere in the country, no self-respecting local would order a drink without expecting a plate of something to come along with it. With each round, the free food changes, giving you extra motivation to down that drink and order another—if only to see what will come out of the kitchen next. It’s entirely possible to eat well and walk away with a solid buzz for five euros.
– Matt Goulding, Roads & Kingdoms
As for that drink – sherry is the region’s most famous tipple (and because of its protected status, if the bottle says “sherry”, it’s from a very specific area of Andalusia and nowhere else).
The name “Sherry” comes from Jerez, the city it originated in – and until you’ve had a really good Andalusian sherry, you haven’t lived.
Just ask William Shakespeare.
Andalusians are also big on soup – the kind where you don’t apply heat, since there’s usually plenty of that in the air already (during the summer, inland Andalusia is one of the hottest places in Europe).
Whoever invented gazpacho is a genius. You may know it’s served cold – but it’s also served uncooked, using fresh vegetables. The result is both deliciously cool and deliciously delicious, and you’ll drink gallons of it in the summer.
The most fun way to get your 5-a-day, guaranteed.
Spaniards treat ham like the Scots treat whisky. Take the dried hams of Trevelez (which you’d sample on our trekking adventure across the Sierra Nevada). Each ham is naturally fried and cured (no preservatives or additives) for at least 14 months, and can be cured for up to 30 months before being happily devoured.
Continuing the whisky analogy, it’s precious stuff – a 9kg leg of Trevelez jamon will set you back more than 100 Euros.
And did we mention the pastries? Heavily influenced by Arabic delicacies, Andalusian desserts are sticky, sugary heaven, as you can see above (these are from Seville).
Start with pestiños – flattened, fried doughnuts liberally coated in honey or white sugar.
6. It Contains The Only Desert In Europe
The stretch of coast containing the Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park (the biggest protected coastline in Andalusia) is the only place in Europe you’ll find truly desert-like conditions. The average temperature is 18 °C (64 °F) – and just 6 inches of rain falls every year. Stunning white-sand beaches, glowing blue sea, and jaw-dropping volcanic rock formations…
7. It’s Fabulously Written-About
If you want to get a flavour of Andalusia through the eyes of some of the best travel writers of the last century – you’re well served.
Start with Gerald Brenan’s South From Granada. Fresh from soldiering in World War I, Brenan came to the region to find peace and quiet and an affordable place to live and to put pen to paper. This is the story of how he rebuilt a ruined house in a backwater village, settled into a soothing country lifestyle and played host to writer friends including Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey. It’s an evocative, beautifully written snapshot of a way of living that still hasn’t entirely disappeared.
Moving back to Granada, Steven Nightingale’s Granada: The Light Of Andalucia recounts the author’s 8-year quest to unpick the extraordinarily complicated history of the city, and learn how Jews, Christians and Muslims successfully coexisted together for so long.
Finally, grab a copy of Chris Stewart’s Driving Over Lemons. Once the drummer for the band Genesis, Stewart decided to settle in the Alpujarrás (on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada) and do his best to act like the locals, with decidedly mixed results. Part sentimental memoir and part honest account of a string of misadventures, this book was a huge success and launched him into a new career as a mainly autobiographical travel writer (he also contributed towards the Rough Guide To Andalucia).
Or maybe it’s your turn to write about this corner of the world?
Further information on Andalusia
Check out Lonely Planet’s guide here.
Andalusia Tourism’s official travel guide is here.
Adventure In You has a lovely profile of the region here.
Finally, drop us a line! We’d be happy to answer any questions or steer you in the right direction.