I'm flying into Madrid for an 8 day trip at the end of June. I want to spend most of it in Andalucia. Given my tight time frame, I have to be selective about sights. I'm considering Cordoba, Grenada, Seville, White Villages, Gibraltar, and Nerja. Which of these cities have people enjoyed the most? Which have disappointed? I tend to prefer smaller towns. In my trips around Europe my favorite spots have been France's Dordogne and Arles, and Italy's hill towns (Voltera especially) and Cinque Terre. Also--enroute to the South from Madrid, is it better to see one of Segovia/Toledo/Madrid, or just hustle to the south and skip the above. I'm thinking of renting a car, but am also considering trains. Thank you!
We recently spent nine days over New Years in southern Spain all by train and one bus. This was our schedule -- Fly into Madrid (2 nights), Cordoba (1), Seville (3), Granada (3) and bused to Malaga and fly home. We thought that was a bit rushed but we saw a lot. Seville was probably the favorite. Second, really spent only two days in Granada. We arrived late in the evening for the first night and left very early the last day catch a bus to Malaga and the airport for 2 PM flight to New York. You need to reduce by about half of what you want to do. Also, where are you departing from? Hopefully not Madrid and that would require some time to get back to.
Sally, it does seem like you have a packed agenda (although certainly doable if you want to keep moving). I really loved the time I spent in Ronda, one of the small white washed villages. It was beautiful.
Also, we went to Gibraltar with only half a day to spend there, it was pretty rushed so we ended up deciding to take a taxi 'up the rock' if you will, saved a fair amount of time. While it is very cool, for me it felt like it was more of a place to go to say we went there, vs. really getting to enjoy a local town and it's culture like the other places you mention. Just my opinion.
Thanks for your responses so far!! Let me be clear though--I'm NOT intending to see all those cities in 8 days. Rather, I'm trying to decide to which ones I should go. I'm especially trying to decide between Sevilla, Granada, and Cordoba with some hill towns thrown in. What are the main differences between them in terms of vibe?
Sally....if you like smaller places, then get thee to Sevilla, rent a car, and do a circuit of the white villages from Arcos de Frontera to Ronda. Then you can circle back to Sevilla and train/bus to Granada, or drive straight onto Granada and drop your car there. After Arcos, head east on the A-372 to Grazalema. Just north of Grazalema is another spectacular village, Zahara de la Sierra. You can loop south around the lake and pick up the A-374 into Ronda. If you travel back to Sevilla from Ronda, stop in at Olvera, just a short loop off the A-374/A-375 route. That should take you 2 or 3 days. Be aware that, for much of this journey, you will be on very twisty mountain roads...good roads, but very slow travel times. Plan on an average speed of about 35 MPH. As for your other stops, I would suggest Sevilla (fast train from Madrid, inexpensive tickets 62 days in advance at www.renfe.es) and Granada. Sevilla is a modern, generally young-feeling city, but with lots of history and sites to see. Granada, of course, has the spectacular Alhambra (advance tickets necessary at www.alhambra-tickets.es). It is a slightly more "conservative" or "traditional" city, but lots of great restaurants and bars in the Albaycin. Great flamenco in both. With all this on the go, you won't have a chance to do much else....neither Segovia nor Toledo are on the way south, if you're travelling by train. But I would spend a day in Madrid, probably at the end of your journey, to allow you to rest and see a few sights before you fly off.
Earlier tonight I saw your post and was about to respond, but then got side-tracked. When I came back to my computer, I found that Norm in Ottawa had responded and basically said everything I was going to chime in about. So now all I have to say is Ditto, Norm.
I'd also like to add two things: 1) I found the Mezquita in Cordoba to be amazing and well-worth a stop, but was glad we didn't overnight there (especially since that would have meant taking a night from wonderful Sevilla), and 2) my understanding is Andalucia is the hottest part of Spain during the summer, something to possibly be prepared for.
Just returned from 2 1/2 weeks there. We flew to Barcelona (3 days), then flew to Malaga to pick up car and drove to Granada (1 1/2 days-because of traffic and an accident outside the city), We then headed to Ronda the long way (via the coast) with a stop in Almunecar (Nerja next town over) It took more than 2 hours to reach Ronda on this route, a real windy road. We liked Ronda so much we stayed 2 days instead of the planned 1). From Ronda we traveked to Grazalema and then to Zahara before stopping in Arcos for the night. One thing to remember if driving: these hill towns streets are very narrow and windy and best driven in a small car. Also parking can be difficult (as in Zahara because of road work in the town). Next we headed to Jerez because it sounded interesting, but since it didn't really have the small town character we were looking for we moved on to Sanlucar de Baramende along the coast and spent a good part of the day there before heading to Carmona (1 night at their parador). Next day Sevilla (2 1/2 days). We dropped the car there and took the train to Cordoba (1 day if you are only interested in the Mezquita, otherwise 2 days), a nice walking town. We then took the train to Madrid for our last three days.
Note that with the exception of Grazalema and Zahara, these are not small towns anymore. They have spread out considerably and you have to drive through the new town to get to the historic part of the city at the top. Since we approached Ronda from the south we lucked out and drove right into the old part of town (following the Ronda-Sur sign). Oh yeah, and Granada is mostly one-way streets.
Our favorites (other than Barcelona): Granada, Ronda, Grazalema, Arcos, Carmona, Cordoba, Sevilla, but actually they are all worth a visit. Read up and decide which ones have the most of what you really want to see and then make your plans based on that.
Hope you have as much fun as we had!!
Thanks everyone. It was a big help. Wow, Norm, thanks for all the details, especially the driving directions to the hill towns. I also appreciated the perspectives on Jerez and Gilbraltar. As for the latter, I'm tired of stopping in at ho hum places just to say I've been there (Pisa!).
Sally, I must chime in about Cordoba. I loved it and felt it had the small town feel that for me, Sevilla did not have. However, I have not met a person who does not like Sevilla except for maybe me. I always found it too touristy so with that said, I still think Cordoba is a jewel in Andalucia. Hope this helps a bit.
I would second two days for Cordoba. We had only one and it wasn't enough. Also be sure to stay in the historic center of the town. We stayed at the Maimonides right next to the Mesquita, the double room was €85 per night.
We considered visiting Gibralter but, like most folk it was only to say we'd been there, so we opted to visit the coast instead. I would take Nerja over Gilbralter, given a choice. The drive from the coast (Nerja area) to Ronda is much steeper and windier and can be slower depending on traffic. It took over 2 hours. The drive from Ronda to Arcos is an easy. lovely, scenic drive.
Note that Zahara was undergoing road work (end of May) near the top of town and that made parking more limited at the time. Grazalema has a nice large parking area by the church at the top of the town.