While the cities of Seville, Granada, Malaga, and Cordoba shine brightly on the Iberian Peninsula, the quiet countryside of the region is rich for exploring and offers dramatic hiking trails and diverse driving routes.
All image credits: Abigail King
From the famous cities to the hiking trails in one trip
Using your vehicle to connect the dots, it’s perfectly possible to combine the cultural cities of Seville, Granada, and Cordoba, with the nature of the neighbouring countryside – all within a single trip.
With Seville as your base, getting out into the countryside is simple. A two hour drive away lies El Torcal de Antequera nature reserve. Located high in the Sierra del Torcal mountain range, north of the city of Malaga, this is a great stop for leisurely hikes.
With three different walking routes, the reserve is home to goatherds, wonderful orchids, and sightings of Africa’s coastline. The lunar-like karst towers that flood the reserve’s skyline are intriguing, with the limestone features forming through water dissolution. Its UNESCO World Heritage status means that this delightful part of Andalusia is protected, yet still accessible to visitors.
So striking are the rock formations, and so old the megalithic monuments, I couldn’t help but wonder why I’d never been here before. With a summer breeze and the soft chime of livestock between the gentle thump of boots on rock, it’s a world away from the crowded beaches of the coast.
Back down at sea level, but still within UNESCO’s reach, live the fascinating wetlands of the Doñana National Park.
Doñana swaps hard rock for soft coastal dunes. Pine forests, beaches, cliffs, and lagoons populate the national park creating an epic sense of adventure at every turn. With over 270 species of bird calling this area home, it really is a birdwatcher’s paradise.
Even if you’re not a ‘twitcher,’ the walks here will keep you close to nature as you share the experience with roaming wildlife along the way.
Stopping off in El Rocío
In the small town of El Rocío, on the outskirts of Doñana, wide sandy lanes lead away from the marsh water. Famous for its sacred wooden statue, the sprawling whitewashed complex of the Ermita de la Virgen del Rocío draws in thousands of pilgrims to the otherwise quiet town each year.
In contrast to the religious monuments stand traditional bars designed for ‘caballeros’ – dating back to a time where knights rode these rural streets. Here, the love between man or woman, and the horse remains extremely robust. Stopping off for a drink on horseback is a familiar sight here to this day.
Getting to grips with the Andalusian roads
After a night in El Rocío, head back out on the open road. Drive up to the surrounding mountains and discover the magnificent Sierra Nevada National Park.
With an average altitude of 4000 metres above sea level, the Alpujarras section of Sierra Nevada is full of lush walkways that take you through winding villages, with brooks and streams formed from freshly melted snow.
Life here is unpretentious and simple. The drives, however, are pulsating. The cliff-edge roads set your heart racing, but the dramatic scenery means driving with caution will allow you to take it all in. Parking up, the hiking routes between fig trees and almond blossom bring you closer to nature with a sturdy sense of calm.
The small villages of the Alpujarras retain their unique Spanish charm, and are easy to walk through on your journey. Residents dry red peppers in the hot sun, rolling out thick sheets for the daily siesta – a long-standing tradition that has survived here into the 21st century.
The olive growing communities around Jaen provide additional hiking opportunities. Routes are scattered between family-run groves and smoky silhouettes of mountains that line up like backdrops to a Hollywood film set.
The olive growing community of Pegalajar
As you plan your hiking trip in Andalusia, lose yourself in the knowledge that life up in the mountains takes on a cooler, calmer pace. As I finished exploring the varied hiking routes and descended back to the towns below the mountains on twisting roads, I had already started planning my next adventure – in search of new places and more unspoilt ground to cover.