During the sun-baked summer months, the beaches of Andalusia are a magnet for sun worshipers and water sports enthusiasts. Spain’s most southerly region is a popular tourist draw for its stunning coastline, and also its wild mountainous regions, and the beauty of many of its cities such as Seville and Granada.
However, if that’s ‘all’ you see you might be short-changing yourself as the area has many other charms and hidden corners that are well worth putting on your itinerary. This is off beat Andalusia, and there’s plenty to explore.
1. Sulfur spa at Carratraca
Surrender your body to the sulfur spa at Carratraca in Malaga. Situated in the foothills of Sierra Blanquilla, there have been restorative waters here since the Roman times. The spa’s most celebrated era was the nineteenth century when Europe’s aristocracy and nobility would visit for some decadent downtime. Famous bodies that have slipped between the surface of the slightly radioactive waters include Lord Byron, and Alexander Dumas. The spa has undergone extensive renovation in recent years and once again offers world class pampering. It’s believed that the levels of calcium, magnesium and sulphates give the hot springs their healing power.
2. Museo del Santo Rosario
The Museum of the Holy Rosary in Aroche, close to the Portuguese border, has to be one of the world’s more eccentric museums. In a building that dates from the fifteenth century there are more than 1,000 rosaries that have been sent in by people from all over the world. Some have been donated by such famous figures as Mother Teresa, Richard Nixon, General Franco, John F Kennedy, Pope John XX111, football players, and bull fighters.
3. Sanctuario de Burros
In the pine woods outside Rute, a small town in the heart of Cordoba, is the famous donkey sanctuary – Sanctuario de Burros. It’s run by a non-profit making charity ADEBO (Associación para la Defensa del Borrico) and offers a helping hand to the hoofed. It provides shelter for neglected and abused donkeys from Spain and other European countries. Queen Sofia and King Juan Carlos have sponsored donkeys here, as has the former US president Bill Clinton.
4. Venta de Alfarnate
Venta de Alfarnate is the 13th century inn that claims to be the country’s oldest. Situated in what used to bandolero or bandit country the hostelry was a much frequented watering hole of brigands and highwayman, escaping their pursuers. The memory of this time is kept alive by the inn’s museum to its outlaw past. This includes a well preserved prison cell where many a bandit would spend the night en route to the courts in Malaga. The place is a lot more hospitable now and its restaurant serves up many regional dishes.
The cathedral town of Gaudix in the eastern part of Granada is so far off the beaten path that almost half the inhabitants have chosen to live under it – in cave houses. Far from being dank, squalid and desolate refuges, they are comfortable, well-appointed modern homes with fitted kitchens, marble floors and internet connections. Some are even hotels. There are around four thousand cave dwellings, and if you wander around the troglodyte area you may even be invited inside. You’ll soon pick up on one of the great advantages of living underground; the temperature is a constant 20 degrees, which is a welcome relief from the ferocious summer heat that’s tearing strips off your back.
Photo of Gaudix, Andalusia, Spain by Adam Blicharski