The biggest challenge in planning a driving tour of Andalusia? What to leave out.
You’ll never cover everything worth seeing in this vast and exciting region of Spain, even on a two-week tour, writes David Williams.
The good news is that with its dramatic coastline, monumental cities, captivating villages and the natural beauty of the Andalusian countryside, it’s hard to make a bad choice – and a car helps you to cram in the best of the best sights.
This tour of around 450 miles starts in Malaga, where you can pick up your hire car, and covers the western side of Andalusia including the striking Sierra Nevada mountains – but you could equally well launch your tour to the north-west, in Seville.
You could take your time and tackle the trip in two weeks or compress it into one.
This is a great city to start your tour in: relaxed and informal, with top-notch beaches, and it seldom gets cold, even in mid-winter.
If you haven’t visited Malaga for a while, you’ll be surprised how it’s been tidied up, too. The waterfront is much smarter and there are now chic bars and eateries in the formerly dodgy city centre.
Must-sees in Malaga include the imposing Alcazaba, a Moorish hilltop fortress, the Finca de la Concepcion Botanic Gardens (so lush they’ll convert even the most hardened garden sceptics) and the Museo Picasso – with more than 200 works charting the development of the quirky, impish genius.
It takes just under two hours to get from Malaga to Ronda, along the breathtaking, at times twisty, A357/A367.
The city’s setting, above a deep gorge, and its sights – including the Moorish quarter, the impossibly spindly Puente Nuevo bridge and the Casa del Rey Moro, with its whispering gallery and other weird features – make it well worth the drive.
You have two hours for the excitement to build up as you take the A374/A376 towards Seville, and when you arrive you can enjoy this city’s immense sense of history, the scent of orange blossoms and its well-preserved architecture – if possibly not the bullfighting.
There’s enough to fill a week here, but highlights include the extraordinarily graceful courtyards and staterooms of the Alcazar palace, the fine collection in the Museo de Bellas Artes, watching the flamenco and ascending the elegant, 230ft tower of the Giralda, a former mosque’s minaret.
It takes just 20 minutes or so along the E5 to reach Carmona, one of Andalusia’s oldest towns and set on a plateau.
While there, visit the elegant 15th century Iglesia (church) San Pedro and the fascinating subterranean Roman-era necropolis, and admire the far-reaching views over the countryside.
Now push on to exuberant Cordoba, a journey of around an hour and 30 minutes along the E5/A4.The city has a lively Roman, Moorish, Christian and Jewish heritage, reflected in its architecture. The Mezquita Catedral causes predictable gasps with the beauty of its columns and sense of serenity.
Then there’s the atmospheric whitewashed maze of the Juderia (Jewish Quarter), the Puente Romano – a Roman bridge with views over the river’s watermills – and the Palacio de Viana, with its 12 atmospheric patios.
Next, to the olive capital of the world – or so they call it. You arrive in Jaen after a two-hour journey along the A4/A311, when you can enjoy the breathtaking Renaissance cathedral towering above the city.
The Palacio de Villardompardo also impresses for its Moorish baths hidden deep below the palace, vast enough to make any bathroom fanatic jealous.
The magnificent square – the Plaza Vazquez de Molina – invites you to draw a deep breath, and there are some stylish little shops along Calle Real.
Spectacular monuments and a breathtaking setting beckon you on from Jaen – it’s just over an hour’s drive along the A44 to Granada, one of Andalusia’s most unforgettable cities.
Granada’s crown jewel is the sumptuous Alhambra, one of the finest surviving Moorish palaces, together with the enchanting gardens and running water of the Generalife gardens. (A limited number of tickets is allocated daily – it’s best to buy well in advance.)
Beyond this entrancing piece of architecture, there are markets and attractive squares, along with picturesque alleyways and bridges to explore. The open-air Parque de las Ciencias (science park), with pavilions focused on physics, chemistry, geology and human anatomy, is a newer attraction worth seeing.
Now’s it’s time to nip back to Malaga (about two hours if you take the A92 west, then the A45) or detour for 20 minutes or so to view the soaring Sierra Nevada mountains first, by travelling along the A395 towards Monachil.