Images of European holidaymakers flocking to the Costas for sun, sand, sea and sangria can cause those in search of culture, delicious food and adventure to give Spain a wide berth, but a visit to Andalusia can offer a very different kind of trip, ticking all the right boxes for non-beach babes and culture vultures, if you focus your holiday a little more inland.
Whether you have to cram as much as possible into a 10-day break or even if you decide to move to Spain, it is possible to split your time between Granada, Cordoba and Seville; three cities with very different atmospheres.
The splendours of the Alhambra rival those of the Taj Mahal, but history-lovers will be delighted by a host of other marvels in all three cities. Cordoba has a stunning cathedral which was once a mosque. Seville’s cathedral is the biggest gothic cathedral in the world, with a 32-storey tower, formerly a mosque minaret, which you can climb for the breath-taking view.
In Granada the delicate filigree of the Alhambra palace contrasts with the Alcazaba, the massive outer fortifications, and the beauty of the gardens, in a stunning combination. On the hill opposite is the atmospheric Albaicin; the ancient Moorish town, with its steep alleys and stairways, and a terrific view from the top across to the Alhambra.
In the town below is the magnificent cathedral, imposing squares, shops, pavement cafes and restaurants galore.
The ancient mosque-turned-cathedral in Cordoba is stunning, a mass of pillars the size of a football field. Near it is the River Guadalquivir, spanned by a noble Roman bridge with an imposing tower, both in honey-coloured stone. The old town is a vast area of magical alleyways and squares, full of colour and fascination.
Seville has that amazing cathedral; the Guadalquivir, and the wonderful Alcazar Palace, which is reminiscent of the Alhambra.
There are vast amounts to see and do, but be warned: tourism is hard work in Spain; Always plan ahead.
For instance, if you arrive at the Alhambra mid-morning, do not expect to just pay and go in. Many find after an hour queuing they are told no more tickets were available.
Tourists are advised to book tickets in advance by phone, not easy, with only schoolgirl Spanish, but ask your hotel receptionist for help, most are happy to oblige. It really is worth the effort, and the highlight of the trip. To see it, all you need is a whole day, and sensible shoes. The Nasrid Palaces there have a timed entrance, so plan the rest of your visit round it.
For a real slice of Spanish life, Cordoba is perfect. Only a couple of hours by bus from Granada (again, book in advance!) this stunning, smaller city is wonderfully atmospheric, oozing history, good food and culture.
The alleys of the Jewish quarter are full of interest, and as in Granada one can enjoy flamenco music and dancing in the evenings.
Cordoba is cheaper than Granada for food and souvenirs. The Hotel Serrano, a 15-minute walk from the centre, is comfortable and quiet.
Food and drink prove a real bonus, with choices to suit all tastes. Tapas are the traditional taster dishes, but if you don’t speak Spanish it can be tricky working out exactly what is on offer.
If you don’t fancy such delicacies as rabo de toro (oxtail), international food such as sandwiches, pizzas and pasta are on most menus.
Flights can be booked from Liverpool to Granada for under £100 each return, taxes included. There’s a regular bus service from the airport into Granada for a few euros.