A to Z: Secret Andalucian Summer

parque natura cabo de gata

By Sara Wallace

THERE is so much more to see and do around Andalucia than just sit on the beach.

One of Europe’s biggest and most diverse regions, there are literally thousands of secret spots to get away from the crowd, or lap up a bit of class-A culture. We hope you enjoy 26 of our favourites…


A summer holiday gives you the perfect excuse to head off to some of the best galleries in Spain. Malaga has the pick of the bunch with the Picasso Museum and the CAC, which has a major retrospective of work by British genius Gavin Turk this summer. Sevilla has its renowned Bellas Artes museum and Cordoba has a museum dedicated to artist Julio Romero de Torres. And you will be amazed by the massive sculpture garden at the beautiful country estate of Montenmedio, near Vejer. You can also find some interesting exhibitions taking place in Grazalema (see La Cultura) and in the village of Riogordo. Best of all, why not head to the tiny village of Genalguacil to see a series of innovative new pieces at the annual Genalgaucil art festival ‘Los Encuentros de Arte del Valle del Genal’ takes place in the first two weeks of August.


Choosing a beach in Andalucia is a challenge because we are spoiled with so many appealing options! But if you’re in the market for a sweep of perfect white sand, a clear ocean, some naked bods here and there, and the best mojitos this side of Havana, Bolonia in Cadiz is for you. The seaside village on the Costa de la Luz is 20km north of the windsurfer paradise of Tarifa and 20km south of Zahara de los Atunes. It boasts serenity, seclusion, and a feel for what Spanish beaches were like before we came in and turned them into concrete jungles.

Cabo de Gata-Nijar


The Cabo de Gata-Nijar natural park, in Almeria, is Andalucia’s largest protected coastal area, complete with a long rugged coastline, secluded bays and remote beaches, some which can only be reached by a footpath. Much of the park is comprised of volcanic, rocky, ochre-hued mountains that plunge directly into the sea. The pristine waters off the peninsula are rich with coral reefs and ideal for those interested in snorkelling, sailing, kayaking, windsurfing and fishing. If you’re more of a land creature, mountain biking and hiking are also popular in the rolling hills.


Spanning 1300 sq km in the provinces of Huelva, Sevilla, and Cadiz, Doñana National Park has become one of Spain’s most important centres for wildlife conservation. At Doñana you will find three distinct kinds of ecosystem: the marismas, the Mediterranean scrublands, and the coastal dunes. The park is well known for its enormous variety of bird species, such as geese, colourful colonies of flamingo, and the world’s largest colony of Spanish imperial eagles. A new ‘green corridor’ has been proposed to unite burgeoning lynx populations in Doñana and the Sierra Morena…so keep your eyes peeled for flashes of fur here and there!

GNARLY: El Palmar is the surf capital of Europe


Whether you’re looking to hang ten or just hang out, El Palmar in Cadiz is THE place to go. The surf capital of southern Spain has the right winds and combination of rocks and sand to create perfect conditions for catching waves. If your friends or family aren’t keen on surfing, they can enjoy the virgin beaches that have smooth white sand and the clearest of waters. In the evening, swing by the lovely inland town of Vejer or head south to the party village of Los Caños de Meca.


Think it takes long to get to Africa? Think again. A new helicopter service between Algeciras and Ceuta gets you to the continent in just eight minutes. The more typical ferry between the two cities takes almost five times as long, although ferries from Tarifa to Algeciras is only take 35 minutes on days with good weather conditions. Four daily flights operated by the company Inear are now offered between the two cities at a price of 50 euros one-way and 80 euros round-trip.


The little known Genal Valley is said to have one of the cleanest rivers in all of Europe, and offers a handful of great places for swimming. The charming towns dotting the Genal valley – which is just a stone’s throw from the Costa del Sol – are ideal for the type of lingering three-hour Spanish lunches that will fill you up until you’ll want to get right back to the pool chair again. Art lovers will adore the small workshops and craft stores that are plentiful along village streets in this creative region.


Huelva province is known to offer splendid beaches, but travelers who prefer to explore rather than laze by the sea should head into the city of Huelva. Meander through the cobblestone streets to see historical monuments, several baroque style churches, and the Museo de Huelva, which boasts a fascinating archaeological collection. When your feet start to hurt, sit down at a café along the main palm-lined square of Plaza de las Monjas and have a coffee or cup of ice cream, depending on the temperature.


Home to Andalucia’s largest reservoir, which provides about 900 million cubic metres of water for local consumption, Iznajar has become, without a doubt, one of the true picture postcard towns of Andalucia. It is peace personified, sitting beside the reservoir, on its so called ‘beach’, where there is a conveniently placed cafe. Take a dip and dry off looking at, well, just nature. There is hardly a house, let alone a block of flats or golf course, to ruin the Sierra Subbetica backdrop in all directions.

Sherry served in the 'proper' way in Jerez


Take a ride into the so-called ‘Sherry triangle’ of Jerez, Sanlucar, and El Puerto de Santa Maria to see the only geographical region in the world where sherry can legally be produced. In the morning, check out some wine tastings at varies wineries including Lustau or Caballero, then when the lunchtime sun starts heating you up a little too much, head to the lovely beaches of Sanlucar and El Puerto for a chiringuito lunch and an afternoon by the sea. In the evening, savour the flavours of some of Andalucia’s best seafood at the various restaurants that line the narrow streets of El Puerto, or splurge at El Faro de Puerto Santa Maria. A great place to stay is Hotel Casa Grande in the heart of Jerez.


Many in Andalucia forget that the kitesurfing capital of Europe is right in our backyard. The coastal town of Tarifa boasts strong and reliable winds that are ideal for both beginners and experts looking for the ride of their lives. Kitesurfing equipment can be hired for a day or a week from numerous companies on the coast, and you can participate in daylong lessons (in English) if you are just getting started. What’s more, your non-kitesurfing companions won’t get bored either; Tarifa has ten kms of white sandy beaches surrounded by unspoilt countryside for those who prefer to just sit in the sun with a good book.


Summer is brutal here, particularly for those who live in houses without air conditioning or thick stone walls. Why not look to Andalucia’s limestone caves – Mother Nature’s own air-conditioned rooms – to cool you off? Swing by the Nerja Caves to see where people lived from 25,000 BC up until the Bronze Age, or take a trip to Aracena to see underground lakes and dramatic limestone formations. Finally head to the Cueva de la Pileta in Benaojan, near Ronda, and enjoy prehistoric cave paintings on guided tours that are still led by descendents of the farmer who owned the land when the drawings were discovered in 1905.


Warm summer evenings are perfect for getting your groove on at various concerts. There is the annual Creamfields festival in Almeria, while the Drifters and Rose Royce are playing Marbella’s Buddha Beach. If you’re a classical music fan, swing by the sixth annual Al-kalat Music Festival in Alcala de los Gazules from August 11-14 to see the youth orchestra of Cadiz, violinist David le Page, and performances of Mozart, Haydyn, Handel, Pucini, and Verdi by the Soloists of London. All the concerts take place at 10pm at the highest point in town, la Plaza Alta de Alcalá de los Gazules, and entrance is only five euros.

LIBERATED: Try one of Andalucia's nudist beaches for some adventure


Whether you’re looking for some liberation or just a good even suntan, Andalucia’s many nudist beaches are ready to help you, as long as you remember to pack the factor 30! To see Spain’s original naturist resort, check out Costa Natura in Estepona, which resembles a tropical garden and offers activities such as nude yoga, water sports, and flamenco classes. For the bare bodied who would prefer a less daunting and more luxurious nude resort option, swing by Finca los Etera in Alora for chic, modern accommodation with stone-tiled shower rooms and hydro massages.


Even if you did every one of our recommended summer adventures from A to N, your journey wouldn’t be complete without the most recent copy of the Olive Press in hand. We’ll be working through the summer to keep you informed as well as entertained. So join thousands of others daily by checking out our website theolivepress.es to keep up with news that changes by the day, even when you’re on holiday. Oh, and if you don’t mind…please bring a cold beer or an ice cream back to the office, as some of us have to work!


Nothing says summer like grabbing a towel and some sunscreen and sitting by the pool all day, drink in hand. Luckily for us, most Spanish towns and villages have a public municipal outdoor pool that will only cost you a few euros for an entire day of sun bathing delight. Many pools offer reduced price deals for frequent pool goers, and often you can grab tapas for lunch at poolside cafés. The summer is also a perfect time to enroll your children in swimming lessons, which are offered at many municipal pools. By next summer your kids will be able to frolic in the water alone while you sip a Cruzcampo under the umbrella.


What better book to bring to the beach or pool than this quintessential work of Spanish literature by Miguel Cervantes? Though it may weigh down your beach bag with over 1,000 pages, it will all be worth it once you get sucked into the captivating tale of the ‘sane madman’ knight Don Quijote and his faithful sidekick Sancho Panza roaming the plains. It’s not for nothing that Dostoyevsky called it “the final and greatest utterance of the human mind.”

MONKEY BUSINESS: Check out the Barbary apes of Gibraltar, but guard your food


As symbolic as the rock itself, Gibraltar’s apes – Barbary Macaques to be specific – are deserving of a visit with your family this summer. Travel up the rock by cable car, organised tour, or walk, and you’ll be able to view and interact with the apes. You’re technically not allowed to feed them, but sometimes the apes will take matters into their own hands and snatch your snacks, so make sure you keep an eye on them.


While some of are destined to be beach bums during August, others prefer taking their holiday to new heights in the mountains of Andalucia. The Sierra Nevada is the second highest mountain range in Europe after the Alps, and gives you a healthy dose of torrential rivers, sheer-sided gorges, snowy slopes (Yes, even in August), glacial lakes, and terraces of almond trees and olive groves. Hikers, climbers, and backpackers will be in heaven in the Sierra Nevada National Park, but then again, so will anybody who loves a great view. For detailed trail information, along with tips on the best places to stay and eat near these hikes, pick up a copy of Guy Hunter-Watts’ Walking in Andalucia, now in its fifth edition.


El Torcal nature reserve in Antequera boasts towering limestone rock formations and hikes with stunning views. This summer, consider visiting the rocky outcrop and then head to the nearby town of Antequera, for its ‘luz de luna’ program which lets you see the town’s monuments lit up between 9 and 11 pm every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday night. Sights include the Real Colegiata de Santa Maria la Mayor, the Bullfighting Museum, the bullring, and the San Juan de Dios Church. More information at 952 702 505.

UP IN THE AIR: The Benalmadena cable car will take your summer to new heights


Head up, up, and away on the Benalmadena cable car, or Telecabina. After a 15-minute ride with three of your best mates you’ll be at the highest point on the Malaga coast – about 800 m above sea level – with superb views of the Costa del Sol, the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Guadalhorce Valley, and on clear days, Gibraltar and the coast of Africa. A nice option for active travelers is to take the cable car up with your mountain bike (and helmet) in tow, and then have the ride of your life on the way down.


Looking for some exercise after spending a few too many dog days of summer sitting around? Linking the provinces of Cadiz and Sevilla, this never-finished 38-km railway track has three excellent restaurants en route, as well as the world’s largest colony of griffon vultures and some of Andalucia’s most stunning scenery. A good itinerary is to start in Coripe, ride up to Olvera and back, and have lunch at the superb Station de Coripe afterwards. Remember it is shut till early August. Oh, if you don’t have your own bike, they are available for hire in Olvera and Coripe.


Water parks fit the bill for keeping your kids entertained this summer – they’ll have a blast, while you will have the freedom to sit under an umbrella, have a drink, and catch up on some summer reading. The Mijas Water Park offers labyrinth slides, rafting rides on the Wild River, mini golf, and rock climbing. Also check out the Aquopolis in Sevilla, which has karting for the kids and hydromassages for adults,. Aqualand in El Puerto de Santa Maria offers big waterslides for older children but also shallow play areas for younger children. For a combination of water rides and roller coasters, stop by Isla Magica, Sevilla’s 16th-century colonial-themed amusement park complete with Amazonia and Eldorado sections.


If you’re looking for an ‘alternative’ summer activity quite on the opposite end of the spectrum from kiddy waterparks, help your town’s economy by visiting one of the legal brothels found in almost every Spanish town. While tourists may just think they are local bars, Spanish brothels are generally marked by neon signs along the highway. Many of them are monitored by police for legality of their prostitutes and to make sure they are abiding by all necessary regulations. In 2009, however, four Ronda police officers and one Civil Guard were sent to prison for accepting bribes (both money and sexual favors) in return for turning a blind eye to a brothel’s illegal activities, so don’t try anything seedy.


If you’re like most of us and can’t spare hundreds of thousands of euros to buy your own yacht, why not impress all your friends and hire one for a day? Sunseekers can be rented for a day or week through the offices in Puerto Banus, Sotogrande, and Gibraltar. For 3500 euros, you can hire a 53-foot Portofino that will entertain eight people for a day with a driver and petrol included. With the ability to travel up to 50 miles, you and your party can travel all the way to Morocco in glitzy style. If you want to up the ante, pay 4995 euros for a 66-foot Sunseeker Manhattan. To make things easier, a limo service is available to collect you from your hotel or holiday house and take you directly to your flashy yacht. Call 952814950 or 956790209 for more info.

STUNNING: The white village of Zahara has a lake for swimming and trails for horseback riding


Want to cool off this summer without settling for a Costa beach packed with tourists? Take your family and friends to the white village of Zahara de la Sierra in the heart of the Cadiz province and take a refreshing dip or go kayaking in the nearby reservoir. You will not be the first to go however, as British PM David Cameron has already been here on his holidays, spending a day at the lake. He was even seen horseback riding around the it before heading for lunch in the town! Zahara itself is topped with a castle and extremely charming with restaurants – in particular Al Lago – serving tasty and adventurous fare.

Jon Clarke (Publisher & Editor)

Jon Clarke is a Londoner who worked at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday as an investigative journalist before moving permanently to Spain in 2003 where he helped set up the Olive Press. He is the author of three books; Costa Killer, Dining Secrets of Andalucia and My Search for Madeleine.

Do you have a story? Contact [email protected]

1 Comment

  1. X is funny. Costa del Sol is indeed turning quickly into one big putyclub! Just wait and see because the looky looky men do not make enough to afford them, but soon there will be no other clients left!!!!!

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