Andalusia, in the South of Spain is a lovely spot for a warm getaway. Layers of history to explore, orange trees on the sidewalk, a laid back, slower paced lifestyle, tapas and sangria consumed alfresco. Cities and towns in this area include Seville, Malaga, Cordoba, Rondo and Granada. It’s was lovely to visit in March. The temperature range throughout the day meant only a light jacket was required in the morning and evenings. The middle of the day warms up to make it comfortable in a T-shirt. It was pretty amusing to see the tourists coming from colder climes blossom in the warmer Spanish weather whilst the Spanish locals were rugged up with thick coats and scarfs as they were really feeling the cooler temperatures.
Andalusia is a great place to visit. The whole region also feels very safe for tourists, even at night. The food is interesting and the people friendly. The cost of living is also less than London and Australia making it an affordable getaway. March is a good time to visit as there were tourists around but it wasn’t overwhelming.
Here are some random observations of our visit there.
A lot of the houses have an inner courtyard or Andalusian patio. This is an architectural development from the Roman atrium. It makes a lot of sense in the usually sweltering Spanish weather. These inner courtyards are a cool, tiled, sanctuary, made lush and green with the use of pot plants. They are private places just for the household and interestingly keeps the display of family wealth much more hidden than in other cultures. The outside of their homes are modest with little hint of what may lay within in contrast to ostentatious showy homes with large front yards open for all to see.
The walls in these older homes seem very thin. Noise carries easily from one room to the next.
There is plenty of fertile land and good soil in the south of Spain. There are areas where it is more rocky and hilly but there is plenty of flat, fertile and productive land. Whilst traveling through the region in bus and trains, there are plenty of wind turbines scattered throughout.
One of the most striking thing around each of these cities are the orange trees. There are orange trees planted on sidewalks everywhere. Despite being the end of the season, there were still plenty of oranges on the trees in March. Initially, it seemed silly that edible fruit should be left on the trees to the point where some fruit has become moldy. Other fruit lay on the sidewalk below, even the birds don’t touch it. When we tried one of these fruit, the explanation became clear. This variety of oranges are horribly sour and are only used for marmalade with the addition of a lot of sugar. Regardless, the bright colored oranges contrasted with the green leaves of the trees makes for a distinctive and cheerful sight in this region.
In a pleasant contrast from Australia, it felt like there were very few annoying bugs or insects. Windows can be left open to catch the night breeze with no fear of insects being drawn into the indoor lights.
After the rubbish, dirt and grime of London, the cleanliness of these Andalusian cities was a pleasant surprise. There is little rubbish around and the streets were very clean.
Interestingly, the parks of the Andalusia does not have much grass or flower beds. It seems that the Spanish prefer to pave over their parks or to have packed earth instead of grass or flower beds. Flowers are grown in flower pots. Disappointingly many of the parks do not grow big trees which would help shade and cool the area.
The trains and buses in this region are of a high standard. The coach bus that goes between Seville and Algeciras was very new, clean and modern. The tickets were very reasonably priced. The intercity trains in this region are clean, well kept and surprisingly spacious and comfortable.
There were issues however, for example, mass confusion at a bus station due to the lack of clear signage. It would have been simple to rectify. It is a disappointing letdown to what seemed like a well functioning system.
The other highly annoying thing about the Spanish train system is the need to buy seat reservations for an Interail or Eurail rail pass. These only cost about 4 euros each but can only be purchased at a Spanish train station. This means that for tourists, the reservation can only be purchased when they get to Spain. This takes precious time away from sightseeing and risks the train being already fully booked thereby upsetting other plans. In reality, when travelling Spain, the Interail or Eurail railpass is a waste of time and money. It is better just to buy individual tickets. These can be purchased in advance online and are not too expensive.
The historical centers in these Andalusian cities are centuries old and were never designed for cars. As a result, some of the labyrinth of roads can be incredibly narrow and when a car goes down the street, it requires all pedestrians to practically hug the wall on either side to get safely out of the way.
The infrastructure for biking and scooters is excellent in Spain. Using e-scooters or bikes are normalized and the bike lanes are often smooth, segregated and world class.
As with all touristy cities, the horse and cart is also a mode of transportation. These are always lined up near the big sights ready to whisk away some well heeled tourists willing to cough up the exorbitant fee.
Diet and Food
Wondering around the supermarket, it was striking the differences in the products being sold between Spain vs UK or Australia or USA. It is so easy to eat according to the Mediterranean diet and things are less processed. Ingredients on food products only contain ‘real food substances’ instead of unrecognisable chemicals, preservatives or additives. The olive oil section is huge. There are plentiful choices of cans and jars filled with all manner of legumes e.g. beans, chickpeas, lentils etc. A huge section of the aisle is dedicated to canned oily fish like tuna, mackeral and salmon. There are lots of good quality fresh vegetables and also a large section of various fresh seafood. The quantity of seafood vs pork vs chicken vs beef reflects the diet of the population. Seafood of all kinds dominates! Pork and chicken are a distant second and beef hardly eaten at all.
The proportion of fundamental foods rather than pre-prepared foods in the supermarket indicates that the people cook from scratch often rather than taking shortcuts or eating pre-prepared meals. There was less obesity on the streets to be seen.
One surprise we found at the supermarket was a free chain locking system for wheeled granny shopping carts. This is convenient as the carts can be securely locked up whilst the person does their shopping and then used to cart the shopping back home!
Tapas culture dominates this region. It’s nice because it’s not just about eating quickly or eating a big meal for fuel but about lingering over a few bites of food and a small drink. The emphasis is about spending time chatting to friends and family. It felt more about making meaningful connections with people and taking time with them instead of the practicality of fueling the body.
In Andalusian restaurants, tapas is more common than the daily menu (Menu Del Dia). The Menu Del Dia, when you can find it, tends to be excellent value for lunch where a 3 course meal including bread and a drink can be had for between 11 – 15 Euros. Service charge or tip is rarely added to the restaurant bill which was a great relief after London where this practice is unfortunately normalized.
Following on from the healthier food, it could be argued that the Spanish culture and way of life is healthier and more balanced. The starts are slow in the morning. The streets are quiet and shops are still shuttered. Eventually, things come a bit more to life after 10am. Lunch is later, between 1 -4pm approximately. Then in the late afternoon, the streets become deserted again. Most shops are shuttered again as the people take their siesta or have a late afternoon rest to hide from the hottest part of the day. If you make a dinner booking at 7:30pm, you will be one of the first tables at the restaurant. The later part of the evening is when the city really comes to life. There are more people on the street than at any other time of the day. Suddenly the streets are buzzing with people and the whole vibe becomes more lively as people sit out at alfresco tables chatting, drinking and eating tapas. Most of the year, it is too hot to be out during the day and the coolness of the night is so much more alluring.
Despite the slower pace of the culture and the greater emphasis on family and friends instead of the rat race of work, things seemed to be functioning (at least superficially) sufficiently well in Spain.
It might be interesting to some to get a feel for the costs of a trip to south of Spain. Of course this is just an indication, everything depends on your tastes and budget. The currency is what we paid in. The price of train tickets vary greatly depending on how early you book and what time in the day you travel.
- Flight from London to Barcelona – Vueling – 27.69GBP (no luggage)
- Flight from Barcelona to Seville – Vuelng – 22.15GBP (no luggage)
- Flight from Seville to London direct – Easyjet – 43 EUROS (no luggage)
- Accommodation in Seville – $83 AUD/night (Pension Dona Trinidad, clean and simple, room + bathroom)
- Accommodation in Algeciras – $50 EUROS/night (Hospedaje Lisboa Algeciras, self contained accommodation + bathroom)
- Accommodation in Malaga – $72 AUD/night (Airbnb, bedroom + toilet, shared bathroom + kitchen)
- Accommodation in Granada – $43 EUROS/night (Hotel Sacromonte, clean, spacious room + bathroom)
- Accommodation in Cordoba – $56.97 EUROS/night (Tendillas Suite, massive private self contained apartment with 2 bedrooms)
- Accommodation in Seville – $87 AUD/night (Airbnb, newly refurbished, clean self contained apartment + bathroom)
- Bus ticket from Seville to Algeciras – $20.26 EUROS
- Train ticket from Algeciras to Ronda – approx $11 EUROS
- Train ticket from Ronda to Malaga – approx $15 EUROS
- Train ticket from Malaga to Granada – approx $32 EUROS
- Train ticket from Granada to Cordoba – approx $23 EUROS
- Train ticket from Cordoba to Seville -approx $22 EUROS
- Gibraltar Nature Reserve – to climb the Rock – £16/person
- Ticket to Alhambra, Granada – $18 EUROS/person
- Ticket to Real Alcazar of Seville – $13.5 Euros/person
Smoking is very common in Europe. There are a lot of people smoking in Spain. Interestingly, vaping is less common in Spain than in the UK. Smoking cigarettes and cigars is more common than vaping.
There are a lot of churches scattered all through the city. This is a reflection of how Spain has always been quite a religious country. Things must be changing though, as we accidently visited a number of churches during evening service. The crowd in attendance was minimal and old. The service was very old fashioned and boring. If the church wants to remain relevant, engaging and pull in the youth of today, they will have to change a lot.
Does this whet your appetite to travel this region? Check out my other blog posts on Seville, Ronda, Gibraltar, Cordoba, Malaga and Granada as well as a post about Andalusian food.