As an ex-pat from Boston, Jillian Rubman , our expert from Granada, now calls Spain home. She has an unusual take on insider tips on what to avoid in Southern Spain.
By Jillian Rubman
1. Don’t…. spend your whole week on the built-up beaches of the Costa del Sol.
Málaga and its neighboring villages are known as beach havens, but these days they’re filled to the brim with sunburned tourists.
Do… trek east or west for a better beach vacation.
The villages around Cádiz on the western coast offer fantastic sun and sand. Drive out to the Playa de Bolonia and you can explore Roman ruins and hike up a sand dune. To the east, Cabo de Gata offers a combination of Wild West and blue Mediterranean that you won’t see anywhere else in the world. Hike through the national park to reach remote beaches that you can only get to on foot.
2. Don’t… plan your trip around the Féria de abril in Seville.
Seville’s April Fair is popular and appears in every Spain guidebook. Unless you can score an invite from a member of one of Seville’s more prominent families, you won’t be able to go inside most of the casetas (tents) where the parties take place. The outdoors part of the festival is filled with ambience, but I was disappointed to be locked out of half the party by default.
Do… check out the Féria in Córdoba.
Seville’s “little sister” Córdoba hosts a beautiful and thoroughly local Féria every year. Tents are set up for eating and dancing. The crowds are huge, the lights are bright, and there are lots of Spanish women and cute kids wearing flamenco gowns.
All that ambience has a lot in common with Seville’s fantastic féria. So, what’s the difference? Here in Córdoba, visitors are welcome to head into the casetas and join the party.
3. Don’t… broil in the summer sun during your visit to the Alhambra castle.
Granada’s Alhambra Castle is a hugely popular tourist site: it sees thousands of visitors every day. I love the Alhambra for its history and amazing views (not to mention its carefully preserved Moorish architecture) but the summer heat can be overwhelming if you’re visiting in July or August.
Do… get a combined “Alhambra Experiences” ticket to the Alhambra complex.
During the summer, a combined “Alhambra Experiences” pass to the Alhambra will first let you enjoy the nighttime cool at the Nazarie Palaces. With its soft lighting and low fountains, the Alhambra at night will bring some calming balance to the heat and crowds. For the second half of your visit, climb back up to the complex the next morning to see the fortress and gardens before the hottest part of the day.
4. Don’t… arrive two days after a favorite local festival.
We’ve all done it before, and it’s just no fun. Here’s a website to check out before you arrive: Andalucia’s monthly festivals guide.
Do… keep track of festivals at your destination.
Visit during a festival that’s more popular among locals than tourists. Check out Los Patios de Córdoba, where local people compete for the most beautifully decorated patio and all the patios are open to the public. More interested in a beach party? Head to the coast for La Fiesta de San Juan, when young Spanish people all around the country migrate to the nearest beach for all-night bonfires and celebrations.
5. Don’t… only order from the “menu” when you’re in a tapas city.
Many restaurants in southern Spain offer a “menu”—that is, a multi-course meal at a marked-down price. Sometimes that “menu” is a great deal. If you’re in an Andalusian city with free tapas, though—that is, a small portion of food that comes free with each drink—then you should dine on just “tapas” at least once!
Do… order drinks that come with free tapas.
Orange juice is out. Tea and coffee are out. However, if you order an alcoholic drink, a soda, or a mix of the two (like the delicious red wine and lemon soda mix called Tinto de Verano) then food is just part of the bargain. Tapas that come free with your drink, are available in many Spanish cities including Granada and Málaga. Since most drink+tapas combos are priced around 2 Euros, it’s been a long time since I’ve spent more than 6 Euros on three drinks and a meal.
6. Don’t… stick to public transit.
I love public transit in southern Spain. It’s inexpensive, it’s pretty convenient, and it can even be comfortable. However, only using public transit while you travel means you’re literally stuck on the roads most traveled.
Do… rent a car, do some research, and venture off the tourist track.
You can find unique hiking and sightseeing outside city centers. For the first, I’d recommend the clear waters of Rio Verde for summertime hikes. For some paths you literally hike through the river—a good way to keep cool in the summer sun! For sightseeing, drive out towards the dreamy peace of the ruins at Córdoba’s Medina Azahara for soothing counterpoint to the chaos of urban travel.
7. Don’t…. be scared off by the financial crisis.
You’ve probably heard that Spain isn’t in the best financial place ever. Unemployment is a problem; emigration is a problem. However, for most of the population, life goes on. The bulk of the country’s still safer than most major US cities, the weather’s beautiful, and tourist sights are open.
Do… indulge your craving for Spanish sunshine.
If you want to do some good, spend a few tourist Euros. The South of Spain will appreciate the tourism-powered economic boost, and you’ll get a fantastic vacation to remember.
After five years in Europe, Jillian’s almost an expat. She spends her days teaching English, traveling, and taking too many photos. A website for ideas for travel gifts is another of Jillian’s passions: TravelGiftList.com. More from Jillian can be found on her blog, http://www.jillianrubman.com/blog/