ANDALUCIA has really been through the wringer over the millennia.
From the Phoenicians vs the Romans to the Moors vs the Christians, it has been constantly fought over and has seen civilisations come and go – bringing much upheaval and unrest along the way.
This has also made it one of the most culturally diverse places in the world, with luxurious palaces, ancient ruins and medieval churches and structures all painting the story of Spain’s rich past.
Thanks to this, cities and towns across the region welcome millions of tourists each year, all vying for a look at the country’s colourful historical tapestry.
Below are Andalucia’s five best cities which showcase the past, present and future of this ancient region and which are a must visit in 2020.
The region’s capital without a doubt takes the crown as THE must-visit city in Andalucia.
Home to around 7 million people, it is the region’s largest and boasts some of the most historic and visited sites in all of Spain – or Europe for that matter.
These include the stunning Real Alcazar palace and gardens.
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, it is among the oldest palaces in Europe having begun construction in 913, when the caliph of Andalucia Abd al-Rahman III first decided to build a fort. Over 500 years, the grounds were added to by successive Moorish, Christian and finally Catholic rulers, making it one of the most emblematic attractions in a region characterised by its multicultural history.
A stone’s throw away is the Catedral, the largest Gothic church in the world, covering some 23,500sqm and completed in the early 1500s – with the no less important Giralda bell tower attached, the top of which is accessed via a series of ramps which used to be ascended by Moors on horseback before calling citizens to prayer.
But it’s not just the old town centre packed with sites, with medieval churches, convents and centuries-old food markets around every corner.
Meanwhile its iconic pastel-coloured and narrow cobbled streets will send you snappy happy.
And if the culture and architecture wasn’t enough, the food on offer would be hard to beat anywhere in Spain.
No one does tapas best – just ask Barack Obama, who recently stopped off at the famous Bache restaurant in the Alfalfa neighbourhood following a climate conference.
Other centuries-old bars will transport you back to Spain’s Golden Age, like El Rinconcillo, founded back in 1670.
But it’s tapas fusion which this ancient city has mastered, with dozens of Asian and South American inspired eateries to satisfy your taste buds – see Duo Tapas on the Alameda, El Arenal’s La Chunga or Triana’s Vega 10.
From iconic palaces and fantastic food and even SKIING, Granada really does have it all.
Every trip to this inland gem begins at the Alhambra, perhaps Spain’s most visited site.
Originally built as a small fortress in the year 889, it was later renovated by the Moors in the mid-13th century before being converted into a royal palace by the Sultan of Granada in 1333. It was later the Royal Court for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and was the very site in which Christopher Columbus finally received royal permission to set sail for the Americas.
The huge site is a network of palaces and gardens enclosed by a fortified wall and 13 defense towers. It is a truly marvellous site, boasting a range of Andalucian architectural styles with Arabic influences, and for a proper tour you will have to book in advance.
Heading down into Granada centre, prioritise the Albaicin neighbourhood, filled with stunning examples of Moorish and Morisco architecture. It is so renowned for its history that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Boasting narrow and intertwining streets, it is also home to the ancient Ziri walls of the Alcazaba, the Nasrid walls and several incredible churches and former mosques.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite you will be spoilt for choice with some of the best tapas around. If you want to indulge in local grub, opt for its famous Trevelez jamon, Sacromonte tortilla or papas a lo pobre -potatoes with egg and fried peppers.
Many hole-in-the-walls still serve you a FREE tapa with your drink.
And if you’re visiting in the winter, head 40 minutes up the mountains for top quality skiing at the Sierra Nevada resort.
Malaga city is one of the fastest-growing tourism destinations in Spain and sits comfortably on this list.
The birth-place of Pablo Picasso, it has attracted tourists from around the globe with its impressive collection of museums, particularly the Picasso Museum, first opened in 2003.
Unlike the rest of the Costa del Sol, it is well connected by a metro while its pedestrianised centre makes it a treat to walk around (plus it has the airport on its doorstep).
It is also packed full of fantastic restaurants and boutique hotels complete with rooftop terraces and pools (offering that perfect summer Instagram moment).
Meanwhile, cool new bars like the Pastrami bar, which lies hidden behind a takeaway shop, are making this city a hotspot for young travellers looking for a cheap city break.
As if that wasn’t enough, it is also home to Roman and Moorish ruins and has a beach to cool off in the summer heat.
TIP: Lunch or dinner at the iconic El Pimpi is a must
Cordoba is one of Andalucia’s most historic regions, hosting civilisations since at least 42,000 BC.
Like much of the region, it has seen Roman, Moorish and Catholic Spanish rule and has a wealth of historic monuments to reflect its rich historical past.
In fact the whole historical centre of the city was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in the 1980s.
Much of this is owed to The Mezquita, a mosque-turned-cathedral which has been standing since the 8th century. It was converted to a cathedral after the city fell under Christian rule in 1236 and to this day muslims are forbidden from praying in it.
And if the Roman bridge looks familiar, that may be because it was used for the hit fantasy series Game of Thrones.
Meanwhile, the city is very walkable and is packed with centuries’ old churches and convents and narrow, cobbled streets.
The food is strictly traditional and there are some great local taverns.
Head to El Potrillo Espanol on Calle Lucano for some jamon and grilled garlic mushrooms or to Bodegas Guzman on Calle de los Judios from some locally harvested Montilla Moriles wine and classic tapas.
Its Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) is perhaps one of the most photographed sites in Spain.
Completed in 1793, it gives jaw-dropping views of the Tajo canyon and measures a dizzying 120 metres.
But Ronda is much more than its most famous landmark.
Given its name under the rule of Julius Caesar, the city has been inhabited since before the Phoenicians and is packed with historical offerings.
Its bullring is the oldest in Spain, built in 1784, and has a fascinating collection of related artefacts, including centuries’ old matador costumes and writings and paintings about the bloodsport.
Meanwhile, the Arab baths below the city date back to 13th century while the city’s Old Town was a summer favourite for the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles, with the latter’s ashes having been buried in a well on the rural land of his friend and retired bullfighter Antonio Ordonez.