No other region in Spain captures the Iberian spirit as exquisitely as Andalucia. A journey along its southern coast makes for an ideal getaway, with vibrant tapas flavours, stirring flamenco renditions, pristine beaches, and a compelling art scene. The Costa de la Luz (Coast of Light) along the Atlantic Ocean and the Costa del Sol (Sun Coast) along the Mediterranean Sea have been holiday favourites of Spaniards for millennia, but recently the international jetset have caught on, making Andalucia deservedly sought-after. Follow the coast for some of the region’s top highlights:
The welcoming, small-town feel of Cádiz
Cádiz’ Old Town, with its weather-beaten, whitewashed buildings, is distinctly dotted with over a hundred watchtowers. Amidst this sea of spires, the golden dome and two bell towers of the baroque neoclassical Cádiz Cathedral stand out. This commanding edifice watches over the town and fills the air with dulcet tones every 15 minutes, which helps one keep track of time in a place where otherwise it would be easy to lose. The Cádiz Cathedral is worth a visit for the intricate artwork, the relics, the catacombs below, and the spoils from Spain’s adventures in the New World.
In the streets of Cádiz, haunting allegrias (flamenco songs) lilt from stages at renowned establishments such as Peña Flamenca La Perla, where Friday performances of guitars, singing, impassioned dancing that includes rhythmic stomping and castanets, and soulful folkloric music epitomize the indigenous music of Southern Spain.
With few cars allowed past the Puerta de Tierra, the city’s gate, the Old Town is perfect for walking the narrow streets and finding a freiduriá de pescado (fried fish) restaurant to indulge in the local specialty boquerones (fried sardines) and refreshing cold gazpacho soup. Taberna la Manzanilla is worth finding, a favourite spot with the locals for a tipple of Spanish sherry from a traditionally blackened cask.
Something a little different: Gibraltar
“The Rock,” as it’s usually called, at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula, has for hundreds of years been a small overseas territory of the United Kingdom. The cliff itself is an imposing 426m tall and nearly 5km long limestone monolith, but the town is distinctly British. It's perfect for a short visit between Cádiz on the Costa de la Luz and the Costa del Sol on the Mediterranean. Locals in Gibraltar speak a mix of Spanish and English. The town boasts traditional red British telephone booths, fish and chips shops, and many places for afternoon tea, but also cheeky Barbary macaques known to cause trouble.
There are tunnels carved into the great rock by the British army when Gibraltar was in a strategic position in WWII. The tunnels, some of which you can visit today, stretch 52km and were capable of housing the entire 16,000 troop garrison. They included a telephone exchange, hospital, armory, and even a bakery. In 1997, Stay Behind Cave was discovered as a place for six men to stay and keep watch within the rock should the German invasion have been successful.
The glamour of Marbella
Twenty-seven kilometres of sun-drenched beaches along the Mediterranean, set against the dramatic Sierra Blanca Mountains, make the Costa del Sol, with its crown jewel of Marbella, a destination for the rich and famous. Bejeweled with luxury resorts and boutiques, Michelin-starred restaurants, more than a dozen golf courses, and a port full of superyachts, Marbella is definitely a playground in which to indulge.
The Old Town of Marbella, with white buildings embellished with vibrant bougainvilleas that pour forth over wrought-iron balconies, and the quiet Plaza de Los Naranjos (Orange Plaza), dating back to 1485, is the perfect place to sip coffee and chat with locals. But it’s outside the city centre that the excitement starts.
The Golden Mile of Marbella stretches from the Old Town to Puerto Banús, the flashiest marina on the Costa del Sol, with berths for 915 yachts. Along this strip lie the hottest beach clubs, private villas, lavish hotels and a seemingly endless parade of Ferraris. The Marbella Club has been popular with the Hollywood set, with the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, and Cary Grant, since the 1950s, and offers guests a 10-acre complex that hosts a golf course, access to the stables, a botanical garden, and a world-class spa.
Beachside hotspots near Puerto Banús, such as Nikki Beach and Ocean Club, offer luxury cabanas for sun worship and cocktails during the day, and turn into raucous dance clubs after sundown, where revelers dance until the wee hours, lending to Marbella’s party vibe.
The arts of Malaga
Malaga is modern, urban, and sophisticated, yet rooted strongly in Spanish traditions, such as the arts, bullfighting, and Andalusian cuisine. This renaissance is epitomized by talented chefs such as Jose Carlos Garcia, with his eponymous restaurant where he carries on the strong traditions of Spanish molecular gastronomy, creating world-class dishes in his open kitchen with ingredients from local markets. Garcia grew up with his family’s restaurant before launching his own, which secured a Michelin star in its debut year.
For centuries, Spaniards have celebrated their cultural heritage through the tradition of bullfighting. Brave matadors have contended in La Malagueta bullring in Malaga since 1876. This skilfull dance between man and beast is judged by the matador’s proximity to the horns of the bull, his grace and agility, and his fearlessness.
Without even venturing inland, the coast of Andalucia offers world-class art, music, cuisine, beach life, and the pure spirit of the South of Spain.
English Text by Laine McDonnell