Our Andalucian Honeymoon

Our Andalucian Honeymoon

“Why forever roam and waver / see what is good lies so near thee!” That quote of Germany’s man of letters, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, should account for our wedding and honeymoon. After having lived in so many places, we wanted our honeymoon… a bit closer to home. And we don’t regret our Andalucian honeymoon for one minute.

Our love story isn’t a straightforward one. I first met my British-born husband in the staunchly German Cafe Planie in Stuttgart, despite having lived in Britain for well over a decade. Our paths may or may not have crossed during a brief period when we both lived in Cambridge in 2005, but we were both in committed relationships then.

To cut a long story short, we met, married in the first place we lived together, and with him rarely leaving Zuffenhausen previously and me backpacking my way round the cheaper destinations with some culture, we had to find some common ground when it came to our honeymoon. Also, a wedding costs a bit, so we didn’t want to go overboard. One can have a honeymoon every year, just like people love to renew their vows, right? Which brought us to Spain – and our Andalucian honeymoon.

Disclosure: This trip was entirely self funded. I receive no monetary or non-monetary rewards for writing this unless you click on one of my affiliate links, marked with an asterisk (*). I will only review and recommend places that I have stayed in myself. You can trust me for the whole, unbiased truth.  More details on my affiliate link policy are here For the simple process of linking to other businesses, and just to be on the safe side, I proclaim this unpaid advertising.

Why Spain?

Easy to reach, safe enough for  my husband who’s afraid to go anywhere Eastern Europe or the US or basically anywhere more than six hours away, good for me because I have only visited briefly but loved it, and one of my cats is from Andalucia. But we were still thinking of going somewhere more fancy and honeymoon-ey like Mauritius or a fancy place in Morocco. As we watched prices jump up on our favourite booking site, I said “that’s it”, put in our credit cards details and bought two cheap flights. Ha, you can perhaps guess now what airline – but that’s fine, I openly admit flying low-cost airlines – at least they are always full and their seats squished together, accounting for less carbon emission per passenger, and they use very modern aircraft with lower emissions.

Priego de Cordoba, Andalucia, Spain
Little gems in little-known places: Priego de Cordoba

I hope to add some more detailed posts on some of our destinations in the next few weeks or months, but if you have any questions, please ask away, and I will respond  individually.

Cost of an Andalucian Honeymoon

We paid 113 EURO for two return flights with hand luggage. We also decided to rent a compact car and stay in proper hotels most of the time. This would bump our expenditure up a bit, but not by much. The main season is roughly June to September for seaside places, but major cities like Cordoba and Seville will have a year-round season, with the Semana Santa and Easter and summer being super high season.

We rented our car through Sixt for 237 EURO for ten days and got a new Skoda Fabia – great for us, because we’re both Skoda drivers. You get hire cars a lot cheaper though local car hire companies, but we wanted to play it safe. Rental and return were good, we used a lot of secure and paid car parking because the average Spanish car in the street is dented,  and there were no issues with the car.

I booked all our hotels though Booking.com*  – not only do their prices compare well with other booking sites, but we required their assistance once on this trip – when our “budget room” in an impressive renaissance palace turned out to be a windowless sauna with central heating that could not be turned down. Reception wouldn’t budge when we requested another room. I then contacted Booking.com and requested to cancel our second night, resigned to sauna it out for one night, and two hours later we were in a room with a window, having paid 15 EURO a night to the hotel for the privilege.

Staying in hotels meant eating in cafes and restaurants for 11 days, which really bumped up the cost of the trip, although prices in Andalucia are very reasonable especially when it comes to coffee and tapas.

Our Andalucian Honeymoon Route

We drove 100km a day on average. Roads in Andalucia are very good, and not very busy except in the city centres. We found there is no need to take the toll motorway between Seville and Cadiz or along de Costa del Sol.  One important thing to consider is the Spanish siesta, when pretty much everything, but definitely churches, some attractions and shops close between around 13.00 to 17.00. This is much more palpable in small towns when you may have trouble finding anything open.

Our Route Map

Here is a map of the route that we took over 10 days, rather ambitious but fine if you love driving.

Here are some of our trip highlights, in the order we visited them.

Priego de Cordoba

Fresh off the plane, this was our first stop. Rather than going on the motorway to Cordoba, we turned off onto some tiny windy roads to visit Priego de Cordoba. This small town is not really on the tourist circuit but definitely visit-worthy for its ornate Baroque Churches. They also have one of the finest and most helpful tourist information offices (second place goes to Ubeda, another little-visited gem) so if you haven’t got a clue what to see, head to the city hall for a lot of information on the region.  Besides, it is a pleasant bustling small town.

Priego de Cordoba
This City Hall hosts one of the best tourist offices I’ve had the honour to visit
Priego de Cordoba Spain
Barrio de la Villa, Priego de Cordoba
Priego de Cordoba Spain
Iglesia de San Francisco, one of Priego’s eight Baroque churches

Nearby are the picturesque hilltown villages of Luque and Zuheros, as well as the  olive oil mills of Baena.

Zuheros, Andalucia, Spain
The charming hilltop village of Zuheros between Malaga and Cordoba

Cordoba

We arrived on a sunny evening,  the enticing cafes on Plaza de Andalucia being our first stop. The fact that Cordoba is a major tourist city only becomes obvious within a 200m-radius of its Mosque-Cathedral, the Mezquita. And if you are an early bird, you can visit the Mezquita crowd-free and free from Monday to Saturday between 08:30 and 09:30. The Mezquita officially opens at 10:00 and gets crowded very fast, so we found the early opening great to take a few photos, and actually long enough to visit. It may be large in square footage, but most of the space is occupied by the colonnaded hypostyle prayer hall, which looks great as a “Gesamtkunstwerk” with few nooks and crannies apart from the mihrab and central Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. Another beautiful place to visit is the San Basilio Quarter or Alcázar Viejo, which has many traditional Cordobes courtyards. They are all private but owners open them to the public when they feel like it, often explaining about their pride and joy for a voluntary small fee. And there’s more  -from the tiny 1316 Synagogue through a Mudejar tiled Chapel of San Bartolome to the buzzing shopping and dining area around Plaza de las Tendillas. The Historis Centre of Cordoba is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain
A (relatively) crowd-free Mezquita before official opening – you got to get up early, though
Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain
Mezquita details
Lane in Old Cordoba
Walk away from the tourist-magnet Cathedral and get lost in the cobbled lanes, but ideally not at lunchtime!
Cordoba San Basilio Quarter
San Basilio Quarter – home of the Cordobes Courtyard
Patio, Cordoba, Spain
A private courtyard in Cordoba – they are often open when their owners feel like it

 

Just outside Cordoba is the ruined Caliphate City of Medina Azahara, also listed by UNESCO.

We stayed at the Hotel Riad Arruzafa in a quiet affluent-looking El Brilliante suburb. The hotel is set in pretty gardens in a very quiet street. It has free secure parking and  a decent bus connection to the centre. Our room turned out to be a small apartment with a full-size kitchen and a tiny bedroom. The layout was a little strange and the bed a bit too soft for me to give it top marks. Location, friendliness and breakfast could not be faulted, though.

Baeza and Ubeda

These two Renaissance beauties sit quietly in the Northeast of Andalucia. Despite being UNESCO World Heritage sites, they are little visited by foreigners and remain refreshingly local and uncrowded.

Baeza Cathedral
Baeza Cathedral
Ubeda, Andalucia, Spain
Capilla del Salvador , Ubeda: primly Renaissance on the outside, its interior is an exercise in Baroque opulence
Ubeda, Andalucia, Spain
Basílica de Santa María de los Reales Alcázares, the “other” church on beautiful Plaza Vázquez de Molina
Pottery Quarter Ubeda
Don’t miss the Pottery Quarter and numerous workshops in Ubeda
Ubeda, Andalucia, Spain
Some of the more unusual style of pottery – the deep plates are traditional

We stayed at the Palacio des los Salcedo in Baeza. Slap bang in the pedestrian zone of town, the hotel is great for being in the middle of things and for walking to all the sights and cafes, but terrible for parking our hire car. For an official four-star rating I would have expected that they have secure (paid) parking somewhere, even if it were off-site.

Jaen

Already in Baeza we noticed how Jaen province (apart from the architectural heritage) is the home of great quality olive oil, and the area round Jaen has various “oleotourismo” routes, olive oil museums and oil mills. So, after a morning cruising round oil mills, we wound up in Jaen, the provincial capital and another completely untouristed city. We visited the impressive Renaissance Cathedral, another work by Andrés de Vandelvira of Ubeda and Baeza building fame.  It houses the kerchief that Veronica used to  wipe Jesus tears, called the Holy Veil. Which is refreshing since so many relics are dead body parts and seem somewhat repulsive. Then we went to a tiny lane full of pubs and had lunch at El Gorrion,  the oldest taverna of Jaen.

Jaen province – the worlds largest producer of olive oil
Jaen, Andalucia, Spain
Jaen is overlooked but makes a nice city stop
Jaen Cathedral, Andalucia, Spain
Jaen Cathedral
Jaen, Andalucia, Spain
Spring in Jaen

Sevilla

After embracing local life and little-visited gems, arriving in Sevilla on a sunny Saturday afternoon came as a bit of a shock. Although the drive into the centre and parking in the tidy Avenida Roma underground car park were straightforward, the streets full of generic multinational shops and eateries, stuffed to the brin with people, were not our thing. We gave it a good try and walked past the Cathedral into Calle Sierpes in search of traditional flavour and an optician. We found the optician and the tiny screwdriver I needed to stop my camera lens from falling apart, then fled to the terrace bar of the not-so-crowded Hotel Alfonso XIII for a civilized crowd free drink.

Another attempt at 8am on Sunday was much more successful. We had breakfast in an empty bar, walked around the empty street and enjoyed the vistas then joined the queue for the Real Alcazar for their 9am opening. This Moorish Palace with its large gardens is wonderful and well worth the fee. They never allow too many people in at once, and with its expansive gardens, it doesn’t get too crowded.

Other than that, I thought Sevilla, with its UNESCO World Heritage status,  was beautiful but too crowded, even in March! With more time, I would have visited the pavilions of the 1929 Ibero-American exhibitions, but we were both quite happy to leave Seville, to be honest.

Sevilla, Andalucia, Spain
Sunday morning in Sevilla – imagine thousands of people here at most other times
Real Alcazar Sevilla, Andalucia, Spain
Inside the Real Alcazar – don’t miss it
Sevilla, Andalucia, Spain
Royal Tobacco Factory – the “Carmen Tobacco Factory” of Sevilla, now part of the university
Sevilla, Andalucia, Spain
Civilised drinks at the Alfonso XIII hotel – our bit of affordable luxury

We stayed at the Hotel Alkalat in Alcalá de Guadaira. Now this was a funny one, and I still haven’t figured it out fully. It felt like a naff love hotel with a cleanliness fetish. And the huge bed is still one of the comfiest hotel beds I have slept in, despite the diorama of the pyramids as a headboard. A real bugger to get to (that motorway turn off is easily misse,d and then you’re onto a Goridan knot of motorway junctions to get back to the small road you are supposed to turn into), check-in is at a drive-through counter, you drive into your fully automated garage, and from there enter your suite. I tried to book a jacuzzi suite for the full-on honeymoon experience, but sadly they were all booked. Which can also be said for any decently priced room within walking distnace of the Seville city centre, which is why we made the trip out to the scenic motorways surrounding Seville.

I regret nothing, but in retrospect perhaps I should have booked the Neo-Moorish Hotel Oromana in the same suburb. Built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, it is part hacienda, part modernist Moorish palace, set in woodlands. The rooms look more sweet and simple contemporary, but I had gone for the Budget Arabian Nights phantasy already, and it was non-refundable.

The Sherry Triangle: Sanlucar de Barrameda and Jerez de la Frontera

After Sevilla, Sanlucar was easy-going paradise that seemed to have everything except heavy-duty sights. We spent two lovely days here, walking through town and eating our way through various cafes and seafood restaurants. If you like sherry AND seafood, this is your place. It also had the two best hotels on our trip, and there were lovely-looking small hotels in old traditional buildings aplenty. In addition to this there are some sherry bodegas in the centre and some more out of town. Tourists on the sherry trail seem to visit Jerez, the bodegas here only do tours once a day, and the bodegas in the town centre are quite small but no less inviting.

SAnlucar, Andalucia, Spain
Plaza del Cabildo in Sanlucar de Barrameda: the hub of the old town
Spain, Beautiful old town streets, Sanlucar de Barrameda
Beautiful streets of Sanlucar Old Town
SAnlucar, Andalucia, Spain
“La Cigarrera” Bodega. One of few where you can wander free and admire the cellars

We also spent a day in Jerez de la Frontera. We found the town not too much to shout about and generally preferred the atmosphere of Sanlucar. However most of our day in Jerez was spent in the  Bodegas Fundador (sometimes known as Pedro Domecq) , and their bar and restaurant…

If you love Flamenco, both Sanlucar and Jerez offer excellent authentic performances, usually on weekends.

Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucia, Spain
The “Mezquita” Bodega, one of quite a few the extensive tour at El Fundador takes you to

We stayed at the Hotel Barrameda and at La Alcoba del Agua in Sanlucar de Barrameda.  Both hotels were superb, small traditional houses in the old town centre converted into modern comfortable hotels. I’ve written a review on the Alcoba del Aqua here.

Cadiz

Jutting out into the sea, almost island-like I had high hopes for Cadiz. When we rolled into town, the Levante wind was just freshening up, and two large cruise ships had disgorged day trippers into town. Its old town is quite nice, with picturesque corners and the odd architectural gem, but altogether the romantic illusion of tightly packed white houses with lookout towers on top overpowered reality.

Oratorio de La Santa Cueva, Cadiz, Spain
The little-known Oratorio de La Santa Cueva. See three Goyas in situ here
Cadiz, Andalucia, Spain
… along with everyday modernism: Cadiz didn’t wow me but it was pleasant
shrimp omelette at El Faro, Cadiz, Spain
Tapas at El Faro, Cadiz: highly recommended

The Coast and Vejer de la Frontera

What we didn’t find in Cadiz we got a few kilometres down the road, in the hinterland of the Costa de la Luz. We stopped in Vejer de la Frontera, a Moorish hillside town, to find eerily empty lanes lined with whitewashed houses, good coffee, and a very relaxed, almost Oriental vibe.

Vejer de la Frontera, Andalucia, Spain
Vejer de la Frontera: almost Moroccan in looks
Vejer de la Frontera, Andalucia, Spain
Until you get to the Frog King Fountain of traditional Sevilla tiles
Vejer de la Frontera, Andalucia, Spain
And back in the white streets of Vejer
Vejer de la Frontera, Andalucia, Spain
Cubist Vejer
 Costa de la Luz, Andalucia, Spain
Atlanterra Beach. Not as busy as the Costa del Sol, but slowly being built up with holiday homes

We stayed at the Apartamentos El Roqueo in Conil de la Frontera. Being ever the cheapskates, we booked the cheapest apartment and got one of the older style interior apartments. It was spotlessly clean and functional. There is a good restaurant of the same name on site, the views over the coast are stupendous. It is a bit of a walk down to the beach and into Conil, but if you like to be close to nature, this is a lovely place to stay.

Algeciras

Algeciras is absolutely not a touristy place unless you count the constant stream of ferry travellers to Morocco. This wasn’t always the case, and in the early 201th Century Algeciras  was the place to go , for it had an important railway terminus. Nowadays it is mainly a port city, somewhat rundown, devoid of any sights. It is, however, a great base for visiting much pricier Gibraltar and the Sierra de Grazalema, and still has a regular train service to the Sierra town and to Ronda.

Algeciras, Andalucia, Spain
Plaza Alta, Algeciras: the town is better than its reputation
Algeciras graphics
Alcegiras may lack traditional sights, but look at this beautiful bar front!

We stayed at the Hotel Globales Reina Cristina. Hailing back to the good old railway days, this beautiful large hotel with expansive gardens looks a bit out of place in workaday Algeciras, where the most striking site is the huge port. I admire the Globales group for keeping this property in good shape although I cannot imagine how they’ll pull in the visitors here, but the place definitely has charm. We actually enjoyed drinking cheap cocktails and watching the over 80’s groove to Sinatra in the Saga Lounge for a night or two, and the hotel is excellent for the price, rooms are comfortable and it has lovely gardens and free parking.

Gibraltar

Last not least, after a trip up the coast to Estepona to visit the cat rescue where our  “Blue Terror”  Maite had come from, I couldn’t resist the temptation of a fresh load of Cup-a Soup and Cream Eggs and dragged my husband across the runway and into the building site that is the port area of Gibraltar for a trip to Morrison’s supermarket and a later afternoon English breakfast. All the while, a ferocious Levante wind was blowing, making walking rather an exercise than a pleasant stroll. And I admit that even for the second time, I did not take to Gibraltar very much – it’s crowded, overpriced, bit of how I imagine Britain in the 1970s with more sunshine. The people were really friendly, though!

Gibraltar
Crossing into Gibraltar across its runway… with a booming Levanter cloud in the background
Gibraltar
Grand Casemates Square and a lot of building action in Gibraltar

And with that and a last tortilla and coffee at a random bar in Algeciras, it was back to Malaga Airport… we tried to have our final snack at the esteemed Bodega Charolais in Fuengirola, but they weren’t open for the day when we pitched up there, and I was in no mood to miss my flight!

Disclosure: This trip was entirely self funded. I receive no monetary or non-monetary rewards for writing this unless you click on one of my affiliate links, marked with an asterisk (*). I will only review and recommend places that I have stayed in myself. You can trust me for the whole, unbiased truth.  More details on my affiliate link policy are here For the simple process of linking to other businesses, and just to be on the safe side, I call this unpaid advertising.

Further Reading

All links in this section are affiliate links to Amazon –  I don’t have problems with this as I do buy 80% of my books on Amazon. If you purchase anything through these links, I may earn a  small commission at no extra cost to you. I don’t care as much as I have a job besides writing this, and I’m happy to share my tips for free, but web hosting and  some software subscriptions cost money, so this will help with the running cots for this site. Thank you.

I used an older version of this Rough Guide and found it pretty sufficient – even prices hadn’t  changed a great deal.  had  I had researched some lesser known places like Jaen beforehand, but the recommendations were spot-on with Sanlucar and the Costa de la Luz places.

I found surprisingly little prose about Andalucia other than historical novels set in Granada. Here is a classic, an 1845 French novella. Its most famous adaption is George Bizet’s opera.

A small church in Sevilla becomes the scene of mysterious killings, investigated bu the unlikely duo of a computer hacker and a Vatican official. A great crime/mystery novel with plenty of Sevilla flavour.

And with that, I am running out of books! But I wouldn’t be in Spain without a reference to one of my favourite directors, Pedro Almodovar. Part of this surreal 2002 film about two very different men who bond over caring for women in a coma, takes places in Cordoba and in Lucena in Cordoba Province. It won an Oscar for Best Screenplay and is perhaps remembered as one of Almodovars more “talkative” films rather than sweeping scenery and quirky settings.

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