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Backpacking: The European Alternative

We all know Spain. The sunshine, the beaches, the cerveza and sangria. Well we all think we know Spain, but trust me when I say there’s a lot more than meets the wandering tourist eye. I’m vehemently biased, so shoot me, but Andalucía is the most multifaceted and charming region, occupying the tip of the country closest to Africa and boasting a host of enchanting cities. A rich history can be sought in much of southern Spain, so if you’re dreaming of spending the summer months being a cultural sponge, but can’t afford to trek it all the way to Asia or South America, look no further.

You can fly to Sevilla (Seville) San Pablo airport from most airports in the UK. Ryanair, of course, offers low cost flights for around £50 one way in the summer if you book early enough. Seville is the capital of Andalucía and the fourth largest city in Spain, so it seems a fitting place to begin. Famous for its flamenco and bull fighting, the 2000 year old city comprises of an amalgamation of influences from Medieval to Arabic, Renaissance to Baroque.

What to see

The Alcázar of Sevilla is a royal palace dating back to 1181 when construction first began, and continued for 500 years, taking with it along the way influences from every period its construction stretched through. It still acts as the royal residence for King Juan Carlos I when he’s in the region. For me, the most impressive thing about the Alcázar is less the palace itself, and more the verdant gardens inside the walls which act as a haven from the hustle of the city, a stone’s throw over the facade. N.B Tame peacocks run free in the grounds; always a winner for me.

Entrance:  €2 for students and €8.50 general admission.

Plaza de España, Sevilla is now officially one of my favourite places to nap in the world. Basking in the February sunshine, on intricately tiled stone booths, by an idyllic boating river, I am at my most content in life. An odd but all the more delightful melting pot of eras, the art-deco and Mudejar influences can be seen in the sheer overwhelming tile detail that will evoke even the most apathetic of travellers.

Entrance: Free

Where to stay

Travelers Inn Seville. Great atmosphere, even better location. The hostel boasts three, yes three terraces and is housed in a 500 year old Jewish, Riad style mansion. Find prices and availability here http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Traveler-s-Inn-Seville/Seville/34347.

Where to eat

 Al Aljibe is situated on one of Seville’s most notorious nightlife stretches, although out of season it’s quite the ghost town. This quaint restaurant serves gourmet tapas like you’ve never seen before; a real luxury for the palette after countless bowls of pasta consumed in hostel kitchens. Impeccably presented and generous servings for a fair price -you can’t go wrong. The restaurant offers an authentic outdoor terrace, two interior dining areas and a rooftop terrace. Savour it!

Now to Granada; heading east you have a few options.

  • Hire a car: You have to be 21 for the majority of hire companies in Spain but some require you to be 25. Hire is ridiculously cheap. 
  • Get the train: Trains in Spain I’ve found to be fairly complicated and expensive. I haven’t yet found any reasonably priced trains with a workable website, so for me the best way to travel is by coach.
  • By coach:  http://www.movelia.es/ is a rare example of Spain in the 21st century (this doesn’t happen often). A clear and usable website, you can book coach tickets at €20 to Granada, with a journey time of around 3 hours.

What to see

The Alhambra is a Moorish palace built in the 14th century, perching proudly on top of the hills looking over the city and the neighbouring powdered tops of the Sierra Nevada.  It is Granada’s must see attraction for the culture vulture, so book in advance because you can’t buy tickets on the day. Not knowing this tiny detail myself, I arrived ticketless and disheartened at the gates. After a good half an hour wandering on the wrong side of the walls, myself and a friend serendipitously came across an official looking stone gateway which seemed to have no security, no ticket styles and turned out to be our free pass to the best part of the Palace and gardens. I’m still not sure whether this is a clandestine travel tip, or if it will work for anyone else, but it’s worth a try! (If not, you can buy your tickets through La Caixa banks or cash machines, or online).

For anyone feeling extra intrepid, the Sierra Nevada is an active ski resort in winter months, with the availability to hire equipment and clothes meaning you don’t have to lug anything around with you.

The organised chaos of a tourist broth is not for you? Then just wander around the Arabic Quarter of the city; the candle lit tea shops and Moroccan markets, providing sanctuaries for the lover of meretricious, leather goods. The cobbled maze of streets and shop fronts peppered with hand-sewn garments and passementerie could easily pass for a North African city.

Where to eat

For those of a vegetarian orientation, or even if you just want a health kick, Hicuri Granada offers organic products until you heart can be organic no more. With colourful decor and a spritely demeanour, you’re sure to leave satisfied in mind, stomach and spirit.  

Where to stay

Oasis Backpackers Hostels are always a sure hit when travelling in Andalucía. It is self proclaimed to be designed for the ‘modern day, global traveller.... who wants high pressured showers.’ And we all know how scarce high pressured showers are in the world of hostels, in fact showers in general are coveted treasures. So for a good wash, follow this link http://www.oasisgranada.com/granada-hostel.

If you’ve hired a car then getting to Malaga is a doddle, it should take around 1hr30. Otherwise by coach costs around €10 one way and takes around 2 hours.

What to see

EVERYTHING! Okay I’ll try to be neutral and allocate Málaga’s ‘to see’ section an equal amount of words, but what better place to end the Andalucían journey than by the ocean. With such close proximity to Africa over the strait of Gibraltar, Arabic influences permeate through the architecture.  Malaga’s offering of history comes in the form of a Roman Theatre nestled in the bosom of an Arab fort, which sits in the arms of a Phoenician castle. Literally. How generous of Malaga to offer a 3 in 1 combo, all within eye line of the beach. The Alcazaba is a Moorish fort built in the 11th century and is described as a ‘true gem’ in the centre of Málaga. Its majestic splendour offers views, extensive gardens and evidence of the Roman Empire for the history buff in you. The fine preservation of the fort is clear to see, and is also embedded in the adjoining Archaeological Museum containing various Muslim and Roman artefacts.

Entrance: €1.90 general admission. Free on Sundays.

A steep but ineffably beautiful walk up the hill, you reach Castillo Gibralfaro, the highest point. With 360° views of the city and walkable walls, this is by far the best place to get a feel for the sheer magnitude and architectural diversity of Málaga. Now scour the rest of the city, the Picasso museum and the Renaissance cathedral amongst others (or if you struggle with aestheticism, the local delicacy of sardines barbecued on the beach).

Where to eat

El Pimpi. Originally a winery, its fame extends beyond the locals and further into the realms of Spanish celebs across the country. The traditional cuisine, decor, sweet Málaga wine and years of good reputation all make for a must-go Málaga eatery. Customised beer barrels are the ornaments of choice, with personal messages from the likes of Picasso’s family, Antonia Banderas and the Duchess of Alba. You can choose to eat inside and marvel at the hoards of photos of famous diners, or out on the terrace with a view of the aforementioned Roman Theatre and Alcazaba. In high season you’re advised to book advance, http://www.bodegabarelpimpi.com/.

Where to stay

Oasis Hostel Málaga could not be more centrally located, right beside the must-see Carmen Thyssen Museum and off the main square of the old town. For those not known for prodigality but who still desire an up market stay, this hostel is high above the rest with a sophisticated serenity to the rooftop terrace; loungers, sofas and a bar all year round. http://www.oasismalaga.com/malaga-hostel/the-hostel

Fly out of Málaga airport. A mere 20 minutes out of the city centre, and with Ryanair flights more innumerable than the Spanish men shouting ‘guapa;’ your journey ends with leisure and ease.


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