Interested in discovering Southern Spain? Well, I’d be delighted to share the results of my research and experience, so you can save time in planning your special trip to this destination.
Spain is the second most popular tourist destination in the world after France. Now we understand better why! This country is full of beauty and offers something for everyone.
The extraordinary places to visit in Southern Spain
Madrid is a capital that lives to the rhythm of football – with the two football giants, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid – but it does not only offer great sensations for the football enthusiasts. Its royal palace, cathedral, Retiro Park, Plaza Mayor, Gran Via and the famous Prado Museum are attractions worth visiting.
We were pleasantly surprised by Valencia, which is the 3rd largest metropolitan area in Spain. With a remarkable architectural heritage, the city is known in particular for its City of Arts and Sciences, with its futuristic architecture. In the historic district, the silk lodge, a UNESCO heritage site, was a trading post in the 15th century and represents the city’s economic power on the Mediterranean at that time. We did not miss admiring the church of St. Nicholas, nicknamed “Valencian Sistine Chapel” because of its frescoes on the ceiling. It’s a real beauty!
In Alicante, we visited the Santa Barbara castle. Perched on a gigantic rock, it offers a sensational panoramic view of the whole city and the sea!
On the way to Murcia, when we saw the sign saying “Elch, World Heritage City“, our curiosity led us to stop. And what a beautiful UNESCO discovery, since we were able to walk in the middle of the largest palm grove in Europe. The city was actually built in an oasis, a real exotic garden made up of thousands of palm trees!
In the center of Murcia lies the Cathedral of St. Mary, a gigantic 14th century structure that we enjoyed visiting. The Murcia region is nicknamed as the orchard of Europe because of its fruit and vegetable production. It is very interesting to drive through this fertile plain landscape.
Did you know that the Muslims conquered the Iberian Peninsula and ruled over it for nearly 8 centuries? The Nasrid dynasty, which had established its power over the emirate of Granada, was defeated in 1492, putting an end to the Reconquista. The majestic Acropolis of the Alhambra, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the most prestigious example of the Muslim presence in Spain. The Alhambra of Granada consists of four parts: 1. the Alcazaba or citadel; 2. the Nasrid palaces; 3. the Generalife or the summer palace of the Nasrid princes; 4. The palace of Charles V, which was added by the Castilian victors following the Reconquista. The Alhambra is incredibly sublime!
Ronda is one of those places that awakens the power of imagination. It is the birthplace of the corrida, a well-known Spanish tradition. But the real emblem of the city is the New Bridge (Puente Nuevo) spanning over the El Tajo canyon, dividing the city in two! Ronda has some of the most magnificent viewpoints we have ever seen.
We stayed at La Linea de la Concepcion for two nights, which allowed us to reach Gibraltar on foot. From the border, it only took us 20 minutes to get to the Top of the Rock, after a bus ride and a cable car ride. Up there are some 300 free-roaming Barbary monkeys, the same ones we saw in Morocco. The morning clouds gave way to a beautiful sunshine and a splendid surrounding view in the afternoon. To end the day, we went down to visit the city, which reminded us a lot of England, with its buildings with its unique architecture, its Fish & Chips pubs and restaurants, its red phone booths, its bowler hat police officers and its British store signs. In addition, English is spoken and transactions are made in Sterling pounds, and the car is driven on the right. Oh and also, we walked across the airport runway back to the Spanish border! That was strange.
Back to Andalusia with the city of Cordova. Like its neighbor Granada, Cordova has a rich architectural and cultural heritage linked to the Muslim presence for several centuries. At its peak in the 10th century, Cordova was among the most populous cities in the West and shone for its scientific development. Its mosque-cathedral is a very atypical masterpiece that well reflects the various cultures that have followed one another in Cordova. We enjoyed walking around the cathedral and in the historic center, which is registered on the World Heritage List. The Roman bridge is absolutely magnificent.
Sevilla is magical! We spent several hours wandering in the extraordinary Plaza de España at sunset. The place is semi oval in shape, and features a palace, towers, pillars, arches, porcelain benches, basins and a large central fountain. Flamenco dancers were performing while we were there and it was great!
One of the city’s major attractions is its Alcazar, a fortified palace built by the Umayyads during the period of Muslim domination. As in Granada and Cordova, we were captivated by the beauty of the architecture. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Siege of Seville is the 3rd largest church in the world. It is home to the tomb of Christopher Columbus. As many Spaniards are very deeply rooted in the Catholic religion, we witnessed an unusual scene during our visit. On that day, the royal chapel welcomed Catholic faithful, some patiently waiting for several hours, for the opportunity to kiss the hand of the Virgin of Kings (Virgen de los Reyes), patron saint of Seville.
Back in Spain after Portugal, we stopped in Salamanca to visit its Plaza Mayor, the cathedral and the oldest university in Spain, dating back to 1134.
For a better preparation
From Spain, we only knew Barcelona and its surroundings (Montserrat and the Costa Brava). This year, our goal was to visit as many attractions as possible in the south of the country, with Madrid as our landing and exit point. This prompted us to design a two-part itinerary with a one-day trip to Gibraltar and a five-day trip to Portugal.
Our stay in Spain lasted a total of 16 days, spread out in this way:
- Madrid, the capital: 4 days;
- Valencia: 2 days;
- Alicante: 1/2 day;
- Elch: 1/2 day;
- Murcia: 1/2 day;
- Granada: 2 days;
- Ronda: 1/2 day;
- Gibraltar: 1 day;
- Cordova: 2 days;
- Sevilla: 2 days;
- Portugal: 5 days;
- Salamanca: 1/2 day;
- Madrid: 1/2 day.
If you live in North America, you are among the lucky ones who, like us, can purchase credit cards and earn points that can save you a great deal during your travels. Well, I would like to inform you that Spain is one of those countries that can be visited by staying almost exclusively in Marriott Bonvoy category 1 and 2 hotels, i.e. those that require the least number of points. The proof is that for our 15 nights in Spain, we only spent 147,00 EUR (149.79 USD) in accommodation. The hotels where we have used our points are:
- AC Hotel San Sebastian de los Reyes (Madrid), category 1 or 7500 points;
- AC Hotel Valencia, category 1 or 7500 points;
- AC Hotel Murcia, category 1 or 7500 points;
- AC Hotel La Linea (Gibraltar), category 1 or 7500 points;
- AC Hotel Sevilla Forum, category 2 or 12500 points.
The icing on the cake is that thanks to our Bonvoy Platinum status, facilitated in part by our American Express Platinum credit card, all these hotels have offered us room upgrades and breakfast credits, not to mention an exceptional service.
If you are curious, here are the other destinations where, as in Spain, we have been able to take advantage of a large number of category 1 and 2 hotels to stay for free: Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia.
Here is the breakdown of the 147,00 EUR (149.79 USD) that we spent on accommodation:
- 2 nights in a beautiful apartment in Granada: only 32,00 EUR (32.61 USD) per night;
- 2 nights in a beautiful apartment in Cordova: only 41,50 EUR (42.29 USD) per night
Both apartments have been booked on Booking.
The Fiat 500 we rented for our 21 days in Spain and Portugal cost us 288,00 EUR (293.47 USD), or only 13,71 EUR (13.97 USD) per day. And surprisingly, Spain is home to one of the few free motorway networks in all of Europe!
The Spanish culinary specialty known all over the world that we were most eager to eat was paella. We enjoyed it when we were in Valencia, where it originates from.
Another typical Valencian dish is arroz negro, in which the rice is coloured with cuttlefish ink.
Meat specialities are very popular in Spain, which has greatly contributed to the satisfaction of our taste buds.
All over Spain, tapas are enjoyed at the table, or more commonly while standing, in the famous friendly, social and festive atmosphere of the restaurants.
We tested the Spanish churros, with a thick hot chocolate! Yummy!
As you may have already guessed, our stay in Spain did not lead us to sell a kidney! This country is the cheapest of the 24 European countries we visited this year. The cost of our stay for our family of 4 is:
- 1.518,00 EUR (1,546.84 USD);
- 95,00 EUR (96.81 USD) per day;
- 24,00 EUR (24.46 USD) per person and per day.
|Expense Category||Amount Spent|
|Flights||115,00 EUR / 117.19 USD|
|Accomodation||147,00 EUR / 149.79 USD|
|Transport (including gas, toll, parking)||528,00 EUR / 538.03 USD|
|Eating out||323,00 EUR / 329.14 USD|
|Groceries||257,00 EUR / 261.88 USD|
|Activities||149,00 EUR / 151.83 USD|
|Total||1.518,00 EUR / 1,546.84 USD|
In a nutshell
|Dates||2019-07-22 to 2019-08-05; 2019-08-11 to 2019-08-12|
|Number of days||16|
|Cities we visited||Madrid, Valencia, Murcia, Granada, Ronda, Gibraltar, Cordoba, Sevilla, Salamanca|
|Inbound||Italy by plane|
|Outbound||France by plane|
|Mode of transport||Rental car|
|Distance travelled (car & foot)||2447 km|
|Number of photos taken||7700 (481 per day)|
|Currency||The Euro (1,00 EUR = 1.02 USD)|
Spain is a favorite among the European countries. We definitely haven’t had enough of 16 days in this wonderful country. There are so many places of interest to visit on a trip to Spain that we could have taken several months to visit them!
In the next post, we will conclude our tour in the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal!