Staff Review

Madrid to Malaga - an Andalucian journey


18 Nov 2016

by The Kirker Team

Kirker Holidays

Day 1

After a late morning flight to Madrid, we picked up our hire car and skirted the city on the wide ring road, before turning south; heading away from the plateau of central Spain, for the promised warmth and sunshine of Andalucia. Driving on the motorway we travelled through expansive agricultural land, before rapidly climbing into the mountains on the border with Andalucia. Lush, verdant scenery and glimpses of sunshine accompanied some spectacular views, before we descended again, down to the twin World Heritages sites of Ubeda and Baeza.

These two trading centres, about 20 minutes apart, were the home to a number of wealthy merchant families in the 15th Century, and as a result they were left with a legacy of some of Spain's finest Renaissance architecture. Our first stop was in Ubeda in the early evening. We arrived in time to see the lights switch on to illuminate the compact, but magnificent Cathedral on the main square; the floodlights pick out the intricately carved details of the golden stone facade to create a magical atmosphere, and the whole thing is reflected in rain-slicked stones of the cobbled square.

Parador de Ubeda

Next to the Cathedral on the main square, inside a 15th Century former palace, is the lovely Parador de Ubeda, which is a very comfortable base to see the two cities. The Paradors are a collection of hotels, many in historic buildings, palaces and castles across Spain, established by the government in the 1920s to encourage tourism and help preserve these wonderful monuments. The best examples are unique places to stay and are the perfect way to explore some of the lesser-known parts of the country in style. This particular former palace was the very first to be converted to a Parador.

After a walk around the town we ended the day in Baeza, where we were staying at a small hotel in the centre of the city. Baeza is slightly larger than Ubeda, and has a number of tapas bars and restaurants and a couple of hotels, including the beautiful Puerta de la Luna, nestled close to the impressive cathedral.

Day 2

After an early start this morning we drove up to the nearby hilltop castle at Jaen. This former mediaeval fortress has been converted into another fantastic Parador, with incredible views of the surrounding countryside. Inside, it still feels like a mediaeval castle, with lofty vaulted ceilings and flagstone floors, but the rooms are comfortable and modern. 'We then took the motorway straight to Granada.

Modern Granada is a bustling town with a good selection of restaurants and shops, but the star attraction is the huge Alhambra complex and the Generalife gardens. Coming off the motorway we arrived directly at the Alhambra, where there is a large public car park, and headed straight for the highlight – the elaborate Moorish Nasrid Palace for which we had booked timed entrance tickets thanks to the Kirker Concierge. The Nasrid Palace itself is an astonishing piece of architecture, filled with dazzling tiles and intricately carved arches, niches and ceilings, but is only a small part of the whole complex, which includes the beautifully landscaped Generalife gardens and ingenious water features. If only we had more time, there is enough to explore here for several days!

Once again there is a wonderful Parador; the San Francisco is one of the most unique of all – being located inside the gardens of the Alhambra. From Granada, we took the road west for about an hour, where we stopped to see the hotel La Bobadilla; a wonderful resort with a large outdoor pool and plenty of activities to enjoy on their vast private estate, before continuing on down to the coast where we stayed for the night in Estepona.

Day 3

Our arrival on the Costa del Sol lived up to its name and we were greeted with bright sunshine as we had an al fresco breakfast on the hotel terrace, before setting off to explore some of the coast. Despite the flurry of building here in the last couple of decades, it is still a great spot for winter sunshine. After visiting some of the resorts on the coast we enjoyed a lovely lunch on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Elba, overlooking the sea with the temperature about 20C.

In the afternoon we again headed inland, leaving behind the well-developed coastline for the mountain roads which wind through little white-washed villages and spectacular rugged terrain. After about an hour and a half we reached the town of Ronda, a pretty Andalucian town with a dramatic location spanning the 100 metre deep El Tajo gorge. After entering the town we crossed one of the bridges which traverse this canyon, trying not to look down for fear of vertigo - although the bridges here have been standing for two centuries and look very sturdy.

The Parador in Ronda is on one side of the gorge, with fabulous views and is only yards from Spain's oldest bullring, and some of the famed restaurants in town.

Parador de Ronda

Sadly, there was no time to linger and we instead headed on to visit La Fuente de la Higuera, an elegant country hotel, a few minutes outside of the town. This is a tranquil spot, and I could easily imagine spending a week relaxing in the gardens, and enjoying the swimming pool in the day and the locally-sourced home-cooking in the evening.

Fuente de la Higuera

This time however, we had a flight to catch, so we were back in the car and driving back down to Malaga where we dropped off the car before our flight back to the grey and rain of London in November.

Next time I have promised myself more time to explore Malaga's old town where discerning travellers now stay at the stylish 5 * hotel Posada Del Patio. Guests here are within a short walk of the Cathedral and two wonderful new museums which have already earned a world class reputation: the Museo Picasso and Thyssen.

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