Spain has fascinated me ever since I set foot in Barcelona in October 2016. In the following year, I visited several cities and regions in the country, but it was not until August 2017 that I completely fell in love when I first visited Andalusia. Two years later, in July 2019, I moved to Córdoba and 6 months later to Málaga where I currently reside. It has been 9 beautiful months that I’ve been living in Andalusia and I’m proud to have visited some of the most enchanting places I have been to so far in my life (I did visit 21 other countries and who knows how many cities, so I’m not just saying that!).
Andalusia’s incredibly rich history is present everywhere you look in the region. It is the southernmost autonomous community in continental Spain and the most populous in the country, with more than 8 million inhabitants. Andalusia is a widely popular holiday destination among the British, German, Dutch and Scandinavians, not surprisingly, owing to its more than 800 km’s of beach and all-year-round warm climate. Some Andalusian cities enjoy the highest amount of annual sunshine hours and highest mean annual temperatures in mainland Europe.
A Little History
The diverse history of the region has been influenced by a dozen different cultures from the Phoenicians through the Romans and Greeks to the Moors. The coastal town of Cádiz is believed to be one of the oldest still standing Western European cities, and the legendary area of Tartessos (Atlantis) is also believed to have been located between Cádiz and Huelva.
Around the beginning of the first millennium, under Muslim rule, Córdoba was the biggest city, cultural center and capital of the Caliphate of Córdoba extending over most of the Iberian Peninsula (Al-Andalus). It was from the coastal town of Huelva where Christopher Columbus embarked on his expedition that led to the discovery of the Americas.
By this time, Christianity was re-established in Spain through the “Reconquista” of the Iberian Peninsula, and it is from Andalusia that most settlers set out to the “Indias” (as the American continent is referred to often in Spanish). The heritage of the numerous conquests and reins is omnipresent in Andalusian (and Spanish) food, culture, architecture and even language.
Home Away From Home
I was born and raised in a small Central European country that I left when I was 22 years old in search of better opportunities and with hopes of broadening my horizons and learning new languages. I spent 4 beautiful years in Sweden, but I could not relate to the country, to its people or its values. Whenever I would visit any Southern European country, I immediately felt more at home than I ever did in Sweden. People are more direct, more forward, welcoming and oh, the food. I’m certain all this has lot to do with climate – since Sweden is freezing cold most of the year, people are forced to be inside and isolate themselves.
In Southern Europe, however, winters are mild and everyone’s always out on the street, chatting and laughing, to which I can relate. In Andalusia, it’s not uncommon to hear people sing and play flamenco on the street; city centers are lively, people are loud and everything’s open until late. It’s a very different lifestyle and rhythm than Sweden, but well-known to me from my childhood. The only thing my home country is missing is the beach, which is probably part of the reason why I find Andalusia so inviting. Another reason might be its fascinating history and the Arabic/Moorish influence which also coincides with my Turkish heritage.
There are lots of places I have not had the chance to visit yet, but until then, here’s my incomplete list of 6 (not that hidden) gems of Andalusia, in no particular order:
1. Cádiz Capital
The old town of Cádiz lies on a narrow peninsula stretching into the Iberian mainland where the “new” part of the city is located. Cádiz has more than 10 km’s of gorgeous, sandy beach. Every time I’ve been there, I felt a profound sensation of awe. The old town, teeming with small to medium-sized squares, also houses the Cádiz Cathedral, a majestic building, best enjoyed from the top of the Tavira Tower. Full of great seafood eateries and delicious ‘pescaíto frito’, or ‘fried fish’ spelled in Andaluz, Cádiz is a unique gem on the Andalusian coast, and my favorite city to visit.
2. Vejer de la Frontera (Cádiz)
A “white village” sitting on top of a hill with lots of well-preserved architecture from the Moorish period. I love how everywhere you look, all you see is white, white, and white.
3. Ronda (Málaga)
A small village situated in the mountains with a deep canyon (carved by the river going through it), Moorish bridges and the Plaza del Socorro where the Andalusian flag is commemorated.
4. Nerja (Málaga)
A coastal “white village” on the Eastern Costa del Sol, or ‘Axarquía’, featuring a viewpoint called Balcón de Europa (the balcony of Europe) with stunning views of the coastline, and the mountains. One of my favorite beach destinations on the coast.
5. Frigiliana (Málaga)
Another small “white village” just a few minutes north of Nerja with picturesque cobbled streets and lots of flowers. Great for a walk and some good eats after a beach day in Nerja.
6. Córdoba Capital
Saving the best for last: the third largest city in Andalusia. My home for 6 months. Its whole historic center (which is also one of the biggest in Europe) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It houses:
The Mezquita-Cathedral, a unique church-basilica-mosque-cathedral, reflecting the many religions that Spain practiced over the centuries
The Alcázar, a medieval Moorish castle and fortress with lush gardens.
There’s also the Roman Bridge, a more than 2000-year old bridge over the Guadalquivir river.
Other points of interest are:
- the whole Jewish Quarter (the historic center) with its narrow and cobbled streets, patios, churches and synagogues and many orange trees
- the archaeological site of Medina Azahara, the ruins of the city which was the center of administration and government under the Caliphate of Córdoba.
- Las Ermitas, a number of Catholic churches up in the Sierra Morena with spectacular views of the Guadalquivir valley and Córdoba. It’s just 15 km away from the city itself, so it’s an easy-to-moderate hike.
Norbert is a Full-Stack Designer and Marketing Magician living in Southern Spain. After graduating from university, he worked as a language trainer & coach and online marketing specialist before moving to Scandinavia to broaden his horizons and try his hand in other industries. He is currently a Brand Ambassador at Paris-based UX research agency MindSpark Research Intl.
An advocate for human-centered design, Norbert’s also been freelancing for many years as a side hustle, collaborating with startups to unify brand vision and identity with design. In his free time, he likes exploring the Spanish countryside, gaming, cooking, and learning new languages.