Day 1. Flight to Malaga and an afternoon at the Alcazar

Our Ryanair flight to Malaga departed on time at 08.45.  It was the first time we had flown Ryanair since free seat allocations had been introduced.  It was a big improvement avoiding standing and queueing ages to be able to sit together.  We were also fortunate to have an empty seat next to us on an otherwise full flight.

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Inside our studio apartment in Malaga

From the airport there is a direct rail link into the centre of Malaga which only takes 8 minutes (€1.75 each).  It then took us a further 20 minutes to walk to our apartment in the heart of the old town.
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The Alcazar
The accommodation was modern and spacious and after dropping off our bags we headed to a nearby tapas bar for some lunch, soaking up some of the spring sunshine.
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Malaga old town
 We then climbed the steep hill to the Alcazar and its adjacent castle.  The ticket office was closed but a sign informed visitors that admission on Sunday’s is free, so by chance we had picked a good day to visit.   It was a lengthy climb but there were good views to be had as it was a clear, sunny afternoon.  We relaxed on the castle terrace with a cool beer before taking the path back down to the old town.    There were lots of restaurants to choose from for our evening meal, we ate in one near the cathedral surrounded by pots of red geraniums.
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Dinner in Malaga

Day 2. A Visit to Marbella

For breakfast we headed to a nearby bar which had cured hams hanging from the ceiling.  We feasted on freshly baked croissants and frothy coffee before taking the 10.00 am bus along the coast to Marbella.  Travelling by bus was the only option as there are no train lines on this section of coastline.   The bus journey followed the sea, stopping off in all the smaller resorts along its route.  Marbella’s bus station was about a ten minute walk from the old town which was very attractive with its narrow cobbled lanes,  cottages with window boxes overflowing with brightly coloured flowers, inviting bars and cafes.

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Old town Marbella

Many visitors head straight for the beach but the old town is a hidden gem and really shouldn’t be missed.  After a refreshing cool beer we continued to the seafront, some of which had been spoilt with concrete monstrosities from the 1960’s boom in mass tourism, English bars, etc.

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Seafront, Marbella

But it wasn’t all like that,  further along it was totally different with a large yacht harbour and tasteful, upscale developments.

We returned to the delightful old town for lunch, where we sat at an outdoor table of a restaurant in the spring sunshine.  For lunch I chose gazpacho, a zingy lemon grilled fish and creme caramel washed down with a bottle of local red wine.    The return bus journey to Malaga passed quickly as we both fell asleep for most of the journey.

Later in the evening we headed out again, this time along the seafront in Malaga, wandering past the many yachts at the marina and stopping for drinks in one of the stylish bars on the seafront.  We watched the sunset then returned to our apartment having enjoyed our first full day.

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Sunset over Malaga’s seafront promenade

Day 3. A visit to the famous Ronda Gorge

Our morning began with an early morning stroll around Malaga’s indoor fruit, vegetable, meat and fish market before taking the 10.00 am Renfe Media Distance (MD) train to Ronda.  Our train was very comfortable with air conditioning and it was a relaxing journey over to Ronda.

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Ronda, Andalucia
The main reason for our visit was to see the famous Ronda Gorge and bridge but first we needed to stop for coffees to help us on our way.

Ronda lies 62 miles west of Malaga.  The Puente Nuevo (new bridge) isn’t exactly new as it was constructed in 1793 linking the old moorish town with the newer parts of the town. It crosses the Guadalevin River which flows through the town where it has carved out the steep El Tojo gorge.

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Ronda Gorge
Views of the gorge were breathtaking and seemed to improve at every angle.  We walked down into the gorge along the Camino de los Molinos where the views were even better.

The old town was crowded with tourists as the gorge is one of the major landmarks for visitors to Andalucia.  There is the usual mix of souvenir shops and cafes.  Our lunch though was disappointing, which for us is a rarity in Spain,  prices were higher and quality lower than previous days but perhaps we were just unlucky today.

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The Bullring, Ronda
Strolling through the Cuenca Gardens was a delight as they were full of springtime colour.  Finally, we viewed the bullring before returning to Malaga at 6.00 pm.

Day 4. Seville and the Semana Santa Festival

 After breakfast we checked out of our accommodation in Malaga and on the way to the railway station, stopped to take a look in the Malaga indoor market.  Here one can buy fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish and it was busy this morning with locals buying their fresh produce.

Our train to Seville departed at 10.10 am and the comfortable, media distance train took two and a half hours to reach Seville’s Santa Justa station.

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Toddler dressed for parade
From here we caught a bus to the old town and soon found our accommodation, ‘Tempa Museo‘  which was located on a narrow cobbled street.  The building had retained its original facade but on entering we found ourselves in a very modern building.  Our apartment was even better than we had expected,  furnishings were stylish and very new and front desk staff helpful.

After settling in, we set off with our guidebook to explore Seville.   As we were staying on a quiet street in the old town we could walk everywhere.  We headed to the river and enjoyed lunch in a tapas bar along the waterfront, ideal for people watching as well as being able to see pleasure boats and canoeists sail by.  Our walking tour then took us alongside the Alcazar and the huge gothic cathedral.

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Seville
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Alcazar, Seville
Seville seemed much busier than Malaga, there was frenetic activity everywhere as viewing platforms were being erected in any available space and piles of wooden chairs were tied to lamp posts.  It’s the week before Easter, Holy Week, and in Seville it’s known as ‘Semana Santa‘ which is one of the largest festivals held in Seville each year.  Each day there are church processions through the city with people wearing strange tall pointed hoods with eye slits, called capirotes.  Around 70 churches participate in the festival and carry some elaborate floats depicting scenes from  ‘The Passion’.  Each day from 12 noon between 6 and 9 churches take part in the procession and with each church having up to 3,000 members it can take more than an hour for each group to file past.  The congregation, all wearing the tall, pointed hoods, carry crosses and candles whilst others play instruments.

After dusk, we returned to the route of the parade, crowds had already gathered but we managed to view some of the procession for ourselves.  It was unbelievable to see the size of some of the floats being carried and how difficult it was for these floats to be taken along narrow roads with tight corners.  Often we watched as the edifice being carried had to reverse and alter its position in order to turn a corner.  As the evening stretched on, the crowds seemed to increase and it became difficult for us to move anywhere.

Day 5. Exploring Seville

We spent the entire day exploring the beautiful city of Seville.  We walked everywhere, along the riverbank to the Torre del Oro (The Golden Tower).  Seville owed much of its success in maritime trade  to its river which offered ships more protection than a traditional European port.  Built in the 1200’s the tower’s name is derived from the golden glow that the reflection of the buildings casts on the river.

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Placa de Espanya
Nowadays the tower is home to a maritime museum detailing the river’s importance throughout Seville’s history.  We then continued through the Santa Cruz district to the gardens (Parque de Maria Luisa) to the magnificent Placa de Espanya.    The gardens stretch alongside the Guadalquivir river and were formerly part of the Palace of San Telmo but were donated to the city in 1893.

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Placa de Espanya
The Placa de Espanya was designed in 1914 by a local architect for the 1929 Iberio-American exhibition.  The Regionalist Revival style of architecture using local materials, was constructed to showcase Spain’s role in history, industry and technology.  The buildings are currently used as Government offices.

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Placa de Espanya
Placa de Espanya is a landmark feature in the city and should definitely be visited for its beauty and architectural charm.  After a lunch stop we visited the huge gothic cathedral which is still the third largest church in Europe.  It was built in the sixteenth century to demonstrate Seville’s power and wealth.

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Metropol Parasol
During the evening we walked round to La Placa de Encarnacion in the old part of town.  In this square stands the modernist Metropol Parasol which has been described as the largest wooden structure in the world.  It takes its name from six huge umbrella shaped structures made of birch wood and imported from Finland.  The Metropol Parasol is referred to as Encarnacion’s Mushrooms by locals and its design has been just as controversial as the exorbitant cost which was double the original budget due to delays and alterations to the original design.  It features a restaurant and a rooftop viewing platform.

Day 6. A Day in Cadiz

This morning we boarded a train bound for Cadiz.  Trains depart from Seville’s other station,  St. Bernardo and the journey takes two hours.  Cadiz is the most westerly part of Spain, situated on the Atlantic Ocean.

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Enjoying the sunshine by the harbour in Cadiz

In need of a coffee fix, we found some inviting cafes in the main square overlooking the 18th century baroque cathedral, perfect for some people watching.  The cathedral’s golden dome gleamed in the midday sun and stages were being assembled for the Holy Week processions.

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The Cathedral, Cadiz
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Entrance to the Fortress
Our sightseeing started off along the narrow lanes of the old town which opened up into small piazzas, looking beautiful with their cherry blossom trees in full bloom.  Next, we found ourselves beside the sea, with the Castillo San Sebastian  in front of us.  We explored the historic fortress which is linked to the sea by a tidal causeway.  A little further along there was a pretty little beach, ‘Playa La Caleta’ with small colourful boats bobbing about, anchored in the harbour.  
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Cherry blossom in Cadiz

The promenade was really at its best for our visit in late April as the majority of the trees were either Cherry or Apple and the blossom was at its peak.  A further landmark along this stretch of seafront was the Torre Tavira, watchtower.  Heading back inland we took a look inside the newly opened market hall.  It’s very spacious with bars and cafes down each side surrounding the food stalls.  We didn’t eat here, but instead, in a delightful refurbished old tobacco warehouse near the main square.   After a leisurely, late lunch we decided to head back on the train to Seville having enjoyed Cadiz which is far less touristy but even nicer than we had expected.After resting awhile in our apartment we took an evening stroll through the town which was thronged with crowds watching the candlelight Semana Santa procession.

Day 7. Sightseeing in Cordoba

It was off to Seville’s main rail station, Santa Justa, this morning for the 1 hour 20 minute journey to Córdoba.  It was a cool, overcast day, the temperature feeling much lower than in Seville.  Cordoba was founded by the Romans and it became a major port city used for shipping olive oil, wine and wheat to Ancient Rome.

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Córdoba
Córdoba then became the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andaluis when work began on the Great Mosque ‘Mezquita’ which after numerous alterations and several centuries later became one of the largest mosques in all of Islam.  The city was then re-conquered by the Christians in 1236 who built their cathedral in the midst of its arches and columns creating a mosque / cathedral.

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The Fortress
Our first stop was to visit the Great Mosque, and marvel at its sheer size and beauty. A wedding was taking place in the cathedral so we watched as the bride and groom appeared at the great door.  It would be difficult to choose a more romantic setting to exchange marriage vows.

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The Roman Bridge
A quick look at our map set us on our way to view more of Cordoba’s treasures.  In addition to the Mosque / Cathedral, Cordoba’s magnificent collection of buildings include the Alcazar (Fortress), the Calahorra Fort, constructed by the Arabs to guard the Roman bridge on the far side of the river, and the ancient Jewish Synagogue, now used as a museum.
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Medieval Quarter, Córdoba

Walking through Cordoba’s medieval quarter, formerly the home of the Jewish community called ‘La Juderia’ (Jewry) it’s easy to get disorientated. as it’s a maze of narrow, winding streets, shady flower filled courtyards and picture perfect squares. In one of these small squares we enjoyed what was probably the best lunch of our Andalucian holiday.  We discovered a pretty restaurant tucked away off a square, with its own covered courtyard.

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Lunch in Cordoba
Both food and surroundings couldn’t be beaten.  We’d definitely eat there again if we returned to Córdoba.  It was then back on the train to Seville for a little rest, then an evening stroll along the river bank admiring the floodlit buildings whilst keeping cool with delicious ice cream cones.

 

Day 8 A final look at Seville and its Semana Santa festival

We allowed ourselves a little lie in this morning and it was after 9.00 am when we were eating breakfast.  Today’s plan was to explore Santa Cruz, the former Jewish quarter of the medieval city.  This district contains many of the older churches as well as the massive gothic cathedral.   It was crowded along the narrow streets but nonetheless interesting.  Horse drawn carriages waited in the main cathedral square to take tourists for rides in their polished black coaches.

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Example of impressive Seville architecture

We settled down for coffees and watched people, horses and trams pass along in front of us.  Another walk alongside the river then a day time visit to the ‘Metropol Parasol’. to see if it looked any better in daylight than when we saw it a few evenings ago.  It really wasn’t to our taste and seemed totally out of place in a city filled to the brim with so much architectural splendour.  A sign on the Parasol informed us that the structure had been built to create shade and to make the square more comfortable, sheltered from the intense summer heat.

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Seville Cathedral

 I really thought it would have looked much better, and would have been far cheaper, to have planted some trees to provide shade, but the Parasol is there now, for everyone to see and have their own opinions about.

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Enjoying the sights of Seville

Our evening was spent on the streets of the old town watching the Semana Santa (Holy Week) parade for the final time.  It was even more crowded tonight, all eyes on the church members wearing their strange, tall pointed hoods with eye slits, carrying candles and crosses, not to mention the large passion play edifices they somehow managed to hold on their shoulders and slowly work their way along the narrow streets of Seville.

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Semana Santa Procession, Seville

Day 9. Farewell Seville, hello again Malaga

We checked out of our lovely Seville apartment mid morning, and walked along to the Santa Justa station for our train back to Malaga.  It was good to be able to spend a few more hours in Malaga, as it’s such an underrated city with most tourists heading off directly from the airport to Marbella or one of the other beach resorts nearby., that’s a mistake, as it’s actually a very attractive city with many fine buildings and a smart marina along its seafront.   The old town is a labyrinth of narrow lanes and small squares with cafes and restaurants to suit every taste and budget.

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The castle wall
We headed to the marina and enjoyed a glass or two of wine and a selection of tapas dishes whilst soaking up the last of the Andalucian spring sunshine before heading back to the airport for our late evening flight to the UK.  The flight was on time and two and a half hours later we were heading out to the long stay car park to collect our car and return home.

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View of Malaga from the castle
Our nine day tour of Andalucia was very enjoyable and with pre planning we had managed to visit Marbella, Ronda, Córdoba and Cadiz with ease , using public transport.   It was our first visit to southern Spain but I’m certain it won’t be our only one,  I highly recommend Andalucia especially in the springtime before it becomes unbearably hot and it was such a bonus being there during Holy Week and being able to watch the lavish Semana Santa parade through the old town.