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Last updated : Nov 2009
Andalucia, Ceuta and Melilla
Andalucia, Ceuta and Melilla -
Andalucia is a mountainous region located in the far south of Spain, rich in minerals and an important centre for the production of olives, grapes, lemon and oranges. Andalucia (Al-Andalus) was the last stronghold of the Moors who first arrived here from North Africa early in the eighth century and were finally expelled in 1492. The Arab architectural legacy is an important reason for visiting the region, especially the three great cities of Córdoba, Seville and Granada.

Seville (Sevilla)

The regional capital is Seville, one of the largest cities in Spain, bearing numerous traces of the 500 years of Moorish occupation. Seville is the romantic heart of the country, the city of Carmen and Don Juan. The cathedral in Seville is the largest Gothic building in the world and has a superb collection of art and period stonework. Christopher Columbus is buried here. The cathedral bell tower, known as the Giralda from its crowning weather vane, was originally a minaret and an observatory. The climb is worth the effort for the commanding views over the city.

Of great importance is the Alcázar, the palace-fortress of the Arab kings and one of the finest examples of Mudéjar (Moorish) architecture, mostly dating from after the Christian re-conquest. Seville’s other sights include the Alcázar gardens, the evocative neighbourhood of Santa Cruz with its white-washed houses and tiled patios, and the Torre de Oro, part of the Arab fortifications and later said to have been covered with gold leaf imported from the Americas.

Holy Week in Seville embodies the religious fervour of the Spanish and is one of the most interesting festivals in the Spain. Early booking for accommodation during festival time is essential. Holy Week is followed closely by the famous April Fair, during which couples parade the fairground mounted on fine Andalucian horses, dressed in the traditional flamenco costume. Drinking, eating, song and dance are the order of the day for the whole week and the fairground with its coloured lanterns and casetas bordering the streets is a continuous movement of colour.


Founded by the Romans, Córdoba’s heyday was during the early Moorish period when it was reputed to be the most splendid city in Europe. The Great Mosque built between 785 and 1002 is the main tourist attraction. Highlights include the Great Hall, characterised by delicately carved horseshoe arches of alternating red brick and white stone, the Patio de Los Naranjas, the Ablutions Courtyard still shaded by orange trees and cooled by fountains, and the Mihrab (prayer niche). In the 16th century the mosque was transformed into a Christian church with the building of a Renaissance Choir. Other reminders of Córdoba’s history are the old Jewish Quarter, which boasts a 14th-century mosque and one of only three in Spain, the Archaeological Museum with its substantial Roman and Moorish finds and the area by the river. Just outside town is the ruined palace of Medina Azaha and the site is still being excavated.


The last city to fall to the Christians, Granada’s outstanding monument is the Alhambra, the palace-fortress built by the Nasrid rulers in the 13th to 14th centuries and the most popular tourist attraction in Spain. Tickets must be booked at least 24 hours in advance. The highlights include, the Palacios Nazariés, its halls, courtyards and loggias decorated with painted enamel tiles, delicately fretted arches, stalactite vaulting, marble sculptures and stucco ornament, the Alcazába, an 11th-century hilltop fortress and the Generalife, the gardens of the summer palace.

Across the river from the Alhambra is the atmospheric Arab quarter of the Albaicín. The main sights here are the Arab baths, the Renaissance Casa de Castril and the Church of San Nicolás from where the views of the Alhambra and the surrounding countryside are beautiful and outstanding. In the town itself, visitors should not miss the Gothic Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) built by Ferdinand and Isabella as a mausoleum and a symbol of their triumph over the Moors. The adjoining cathedral, built over several centuries, is impressive mainly in its proportions.

The Sierra Nevada

South of Granada and only about 40km (25 miles) from the coast, is the upland area of the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range running roughly east to west. It contains the highest peaks in Iberia, one of these, the Pico de Veleta is over 3400m/11,155ft, and is accessible for most of its height by road and coach trips. The region offers the unique opportunity to combine a holiday of winter sports with coastal sunshine and watersports in the Mediterranean. Mountain resorts include Capileira (south of the Pico de Veleta), Borreguiles and Pradollano, both are located in the Solynieve region.

There are also coach excursions from Granada to the picturesquely isolated villages of the Alpujarra on the southern fringes of the Sierra Nevada. There are dramatic views of the valleys and ravines from the twisting mountain roads.

Jaén is an ancient town rich in art treasures and historic buildings, the Provincial Museum, the Cathedral, the Castle of Santa Catalina and the 11th-century Moorish baths among them. Baeza is noteworthy for its aristocratic town houses and dating from the Renaissance period. The most distinguished is the Palacio de Jabalquinto, its ornamentation clearly revealing Mudejar influences. Like Baeza, Ubeda has many Renaissance palaces, but the outstanding monument here is the Capilla del Salvador, a fine example of Plateresque architecture.

Costa de la Luz

The attractive stretch of coastline extends from the Portuguese border in the west to Tarifa in the east and, while popular with Spanish tourists, is still relatively undeveloped.

Cádiz’s heyday as a port was in the 16th century when it traded in gold and silver from the Americas. Today, the town’s slightly down-at-heel appearance is part of its charm.

Points of interest include the sea fortifications, the ‘old’ and ‘new’ cathedrals and the tower, Torre Tavira, worth the climb for the sweeping rooftop views. The nearest beach is the Playa de la Victoria, but there are plenty of alternatives in the direction of San Lúcar de Barremada.

Less than half an hour away is the sherry town of Jerez de la Frontera. Several of the bodegas (bars), whose links with England began with the importation of sherris-sack in the 16th century, are open to the public for tastings.

Other attractions include the splendid Renaissance cathedral and a restored 11th-century Moorish Alcázar with baths. Another popular excursion from Cadiz is to the Sierra de Grazalema National Park where visitors can enjoy the wonderful mountain scenery. Points of interest along the route include the Puerto de las Palomas mountain pass which overlooks Grazalema itself, the fortified town of Zahara de la Sierra and Arcos de la Fronteira, a picturesque village with a commanding cliff top location overlooking the Rio Guadalete.

The road from Cádiz to Algeciras offers spectacular views of the Straits of Gibraltar, the North African coastline and the Atlas Mountains. From Algeciras, ferries run to Tangier and Ceuta on the north African coast, as well as to the Canary Islands.

In the province of Huelva is the village of El Rocío where one of the most important Spanish festivals in honour of the Virgin Mary is held at Whitsun. Also of interest are the beautiful stalactite caves of Gruta de las Maravillas in Aracena in the north of Huelva province and the national park, Coto de Doñana.

Costa Del Sol

This densely populated area is popular with tourists on account of its fine beaches and picturesque towns and extends along most of Andalusia’s Mediterranean coastline, from Almeria to Tarifa.

Usually regarded as little more than the gateway to the Costa del Sol, Málaga is an attractive and lively city with plenty to interest the passing visitor. The birthplace of Spain’s greatest 20th-century artist, Pablo Picasso, it is now home to the newly opened Picasso Museum which exhibits an important collection of his paintings. His parents’ house is also open to the public.

Sights also worth a look are the unfinished Cathedral (16th to 18th centuries), the Tropical Gardens and two restored Moorish castles, the Alcazaba and Gibralfara.

Marbella and Torremolinos, the main resorts of the Costa del Sol, are overdeveloped, but it is still possible to find a relatively uncrowded beach further afield. In the same province is Nerja, known as the ‘Balcony of Europe’ on account of its having a promontory look-out which is perched high above the sea with commanding views of the Mediterranean and is also the home of well-preserved prehistoric caves. An excursion can be made from Málaga to the old mountain town of Ronda, spectacularly situated on a gorge in the Sierra de Ronda.

Costa de Almería

To the east of the Costa del Sol is the province of Almería, one of the most heavily developed tourist regions in Spain. The capital of the same name is a former Roman port, dominated by its Moorish castle, the Alcazaba. Attractions here include the 16th-century Cathedral and the Church of Santiago el Viejo. The main resorts of Roquetas de Mar, Aguadulce, El Cabo de Gata and Mojácar lie east and west of the town.

The African Enclaves

Ceuta is a free port on the north coast of Africa. The city is dominated by the Plaza de Africa in the town centre and the cathedral. The promontory has the remains of the old fortress. Bus services are available into Morocco and there are regular car-ferry sailings from the port at Algeciras.

Melilla is also a free port on the north coast of Africa, and is served by car ferries from Málaga and Almería. The town is mainly modern, but there are several older buildings, including a 16th-century church.