Roam the hills and villages of southern Andalusia to seek out treasures from prehistoric cave paintings to famous Marbella attractions among just some of the many things to visit here. The multifaceted landscape of Andalusia lends a glimpse into ancient cultures, local markets, imposing mountains and sun-blessed beaches to inspire journeys in creating indelible memories.
Known as the playground of Europe’s rich and famous, Marbella attracts international celebrities and royalty during the summer with its perfect marriage of modern luxuries and old-world charm. Featuring 28 kilometres of beaches, beautiful mountain range, parks, golf courses, four marinas, shopping centres and a vibrant nightlife, the town charms all walks of life. Places of interest include:
Considered as one of the most famous harbours on the Spanish coastline that is named after its developer, José Banús. Inaugurated in 1970, the marina hosts 915 berths, housing some of the most luxurious vessels in the world. Alfresco bars, restaurants and shops of international prestige line the streets behind the harbour. On Saturdays, a street market can be found at the bullring near Puerto Banús where ethnic Moroccan wares, Spanish antiques, curios and local crafts are displayed for sale.
Explore the honeycomb of narrow back streets in the old part of Marbella town where homes, small shops, art galleries, bars and bistros intermingle to create the atmosphere of a small village. The Arabic wall, museums, squares, street chapels and the popular 16th century Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación or Church of Our Lady of the Incarnation, are testament to rich cultural influences from the Romans, Arabs and Christians. One of the prettiest is Plaza de los Naranjos or Orange Tree Square that dates back to the 15th century and built in the style of Castilian cities. Bordered by orange trees, this fabled square is the nerve centre with significant public buildings and homes with typical Andalusian architecture and whitewashed walls surrounding it.
Avenida del Mar
A lovely promenade adorned by fountains, pergolas, jardinières and a collection of sculptures designed by Salvador Dali, leads down to Playa de la Venus, a popular stretch of beach area. The avenue links La Alameda Park, the historic green zone where locals sought recreation and rest through the centuries with Paseo Maritimo, a seafront boardwalk lined with palm trees, beautiful buildings, shops, outdoor cafés and restaurants. Constitución Park, another popular gathering point with its landscaped gardens, playground and auditorium where musical and theatrical shows are held during summer, is situated nearby the promenade.
San Pedro de Alcántara
An ancient farming community once famous for sugar cane, San Pedro de Alcántara is strategically situated nearby to Marbella, the Sierra de Ronda mountain range and the town of Estepona. Today, it is a refreshingly unspoilt pueblo with an appeal all of its own. Glorious seasonal fruits and vegetables, aromatic herbs and spices and local delicacies are a feast for the senses alongside ceramics, accessories and art pieces sold at the vibrant street market every Thursday.
Head for the central plaza with its gracious Parish Church and surrounding streets packed with intriguing small shops, sidewalk cafés and bars. Enjoy a pleasant stroll from the town centre to the beachfront along the Avenida del Marques del Duero, an attractive avenue flanked by palm trees with several beachside restaurants specialising in fish dishes.
The village of Benahavis is tucked between Sierra Blanca and the Serrania de Ronda mountain ranges, 500 metres above sea level and mere kilometres from Marbella and San Pedro de Alcántara. An authentic jewel for lovers of unspoiled nature, it was founded by Arabs at the end of the 11th century and is one of the most mountainous villages on the western Costa del Sol with the Guadalmina, Guadaiza and Guadalmansa rivers traversing its terrain.
Great natural and historic interests are found within the boundaries of this village with the most notable being the Montemayor Castle that played an important role in the battles between the various Arabs kings in Andalusia due to its strategic position. The village name is derived from Ben al Havis who reigned in Montemayor Castle and means ‘son of Havis’ in Arabic. This ancient stronghold perches at the highest mountaintop in the locale and anyone wishing to make the climb to visit the ruins will be rewarded with sensational views of the coastline.
Benahavis is also known as the dining room of the Costa del Sol with the highest concentration of fine restaurants in the region, offering up a cultural and culinary smorgasbord to delight the palate.
Situated on a high plateau with unparalleled views of the Serranía de Ronda mountains, Ronda is one of the oldest and romantic cities of Spain. The Guadalevín river runs through the city and divides it into two, carving out the dramatic El Tajo escarpment upon which the city perches. Three bridges span the El Tajo gorge but the tallest and most prominent is Puente Nuevo that connects the city’s old and new quarters. Built with stone ashlars, the 18th century bridge is formed from three sections; the lower archway that supports a central 90 metre arch and two smaller side arches, that supports the street level.
The heart of this city preserves a collection of historic-artistic monuments and one worth a visit is The Plaza de Toros, recognised as the oldest bullring in Spain. Built in the 18th century by the same architect of Puente Nuevo, the outstanding features of the sandstone bullring are its elegant proportions highlighted by the double-storey arcade of Tuscan columns. The bullring belongs to Real Cuerpo de la Maestranza de Caballeria de Ronda or Royal Corps of the Institute of Knights of Ronda that was founded by the local nobility in 1572 and their principle activities are the conservation of its unique and artistic heritage related to chivalry, horse riding and bullfighting. At the beginning of September each year, the famous corrida goyesca is held in memory of Pedro Romero, the famous 18th century bullfighter, stemming from the relationship ties between Pedro Romero, Francisco de la Goya, the influential 18th century Spanish painter and Antoñio Ordóñez, the great 20th century bullfighter.
Ronda’s beauty and famous bullfighting traditions have inspired many famous personalities and among them were Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles. Both spent countless summers in Ronda and their collective accounts on Ronda have contributed to its popularity over time. After his death in 1985, Orson Welles’ ashes were buried on the rural property of his friend, the retired bullfighter Antoñio Ordoñez.
Spend a little more time exploring the areas nearby to Ronda with these suggested excursions:
Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park
Declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, the park has the largest expanse of Spanish firs in Mediterranean Europe that are endemic to the Iberian peninsula. Its mountainous, lush woods and vegetation form unforgettable landscapes abundant with wildlife.
The Upper Genal Valley
One of few preserved paradises of Andalusia, The Genal Valley is an explosion of colours and contrasts in culture and traditions. Several quaint villages lie nearby one another within the valley circuit surrounded by chestnut, holm oak and cork oak woods, each with their own uniqueness.
The White Villages
It is believed that there is a special light in Andalusia and nowhere is this more apparent than in the pueblos blancos or white villages. Located west of Ronda, these villages are set high on hilltops or nestled in valleys against a rocky backdrop. Moorish influences continue to saturate the local art and architecture and each limed village, no matter how tiny or remote, has its own story.
The enchanting village of Mijas is situated in the lowlands of the Sierra de Mijas mountain range and is surrounded by pine forest. The nearest main town is the seaside resort Fuengirola and is less than half an hour’s drive from Málaga airport. Founded in prehistoric times by the Tartessians, Mijas is segregated into different neighbourhoods with its own distinct characteristics with Mijas Pueblo and Mijas Costa being the most popular.
Nestled in the mountainside at 428 meters above sea level, this charming white village retains much of its traditional Andalusian way of life with locals displaying their unabashed passion for all things festive and an unmistakable relaxed outlook in life. Wander through picturesque cobbled streets with its typical Andalusian white houses covered in jasmine and bougainvillea, small squares, panoramic views of the Mediterranean and one will understand the reason foreigners, artists and writers chose to stay. Charming donkey-taxis, clip-clopping on cobbled streets, offer rides around the centre and outskirts of the village to those preferring to relax and soak in the sights.
A thriving arts and crafts movement, particularly in linen and wicker items, is apparent with tiny shops bursting with local wares such as ceramics, leatherwork, jewellery and paintings by acclaimed local artists. Within the pueblo, an unusual 20th century bullring was constructed by popular demand but due to the irregular land, the result was a building in a peculiar oval shape that is unique in Spain. The seating area rises from two sides from which magnificent views of Mijas can be seen.
Mijas Costa is the coastal borough of Mijas Pueblo that borders with Fuengirola and its heart lies in La Cala de Mijas. Originally, a beautiful fishing village, La Cala de Mijas has developed over the years but still maintains its Andalusian village by the sea atmosphere. A modern infrastructure, shops as well as many excellent bars and restaurants runs the length of the central boulevard. Mijas Costa is also home to Hipódromo Costa del Sol, the only horse race course on the Costa del Sol, featuring some of the best racehorses in the continent with its regular race days.
A popular street market is held every Wednesday and Saturday from morning until early afternoon, selling everything from fresh produce, bric-à-brac to local craftworks and more.
This city was of great importance as a commercial and fishing point during the Greek and Roman eras. Its Phoenician origins and Roman archaeological remains such as the Teatro Romano are still present while the occupation by Arabs later left an interesting historical urban structure of a labyrinth of narrow streets enclosed within the city wall. Although Málaga has undergone an amount of destruction over the centuries especially during the Spanish Civil War, abundant proof of the Moorish occupation also exist, namely the Alcazaba fortress that dates back to 1065.
As the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, Málaga houses two museums dedicated to his life and work. The collection of the Pablo Picasso Foundation can be found within the house where he was born while the Picasso Museum is housed within the Palacio de los Condes de Buenavista. Interestingly, Málaga has more museums than any other city in Andalusia ranging from wine, social history and customs, contemporary art, archaeology, glass, fashion and cars. Málaga is reinventing itself as a cultural, art and gastronomic centre with its historical monuments and atmospheric little streets.