Almería has come a long way. What was a couple of decades ago basically a tough port city, with its glory days buried firmly in the past, is today the increasingly polished, energetic and visitor-friendly capital of Andalucía's second-wealthiest province. Its cultural attractions are ever-growing and the tapas-bar scene in its spruced-up old centre rivals the best.
Jerez de la Frontera
Stand down all other claimants. Jerez, as most savvy Hispanophiles know, is Andalucía. It just doesn’t broadcast it in the way that Seville and Granada do. Jerez is the capital of Andalucian horse culture, stop one on the famed sherry triangle and – cue the protestations from Cádiz and Seville – the cradle of Spanish flamenco.
Tarifa’s tip-of-Spain location, where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet, gives it a different climate and character to the rest of Andalucía. Stiff Atlantic winds draw in surfers, windsurfers and kitesurfers who, in turn, lend this ancient yet deceptively small settlement a refreshingly laid-back international vibe.
Just northwest of Seville you’ll find the Roman ruins of Itálica, at Santiponce. To the east, the flat and fertile farmlands of La Campiña stretch into the fiery distance, a land of huge agricultural estates belonging to a few landowners, dotted with romantic old towns like Carmona, Osuna and Écija.
Perched on an inland plateau riven by the 100m fissure of El Tajo gorge, Ronda is Málaga province’s most spectacular town. It has a superbly dramatic location, and owes its name (‘surrounded’ by mountains), to the encircling Serranía de Ronda. Established in the 9th century BC, Ronda is also one of Spain’s oldest towns.
Costa de Almería
The coast east of Almería in eastern Andalucía is perhaps the last section of Spain’s Mediterranean coast where you can have a beach to yourself. This is Spain’s sunniest region – even in late March it can be warm enough to strip off and take in the rays. For information, visit Almería City’s tourist office (95 027 43 55; Parque Nicolás Salmerón).
Úbeda (oo-be-dah) is a slightly more sophisticated proposition than its little sister Baeza. Aside from the splendour of its architecture, the town has some top-class tapas bars and restaurants, and an age-old ceramics tradition that is still turning out some very appealing wares. The city became a Castilian bulwark on the Christian march south.
Sierra Nevada & Las Alpujarras
Granada’s dramatic alpine backdrop is the Sierra Nevada range, which extends about 75km from west to east and into Almería province. Its wild snow-capped peaks include the highest point in mainland Spain, while the lower reaches of the range, known as Las Alpujarras (sometimes just La Alpujarra), are dotted with tiny scenic villages.
Set amid vast olive groves, upon which its precarious economy depends, Jaén is somewhat overshadowed by the beauty of nearby Úbeda and Baeza, and is often passed over by visitors to the province. But once you make it into town you will discover a charming, if mildly dilapidated, historic centre with hidden neighbourhoods, excellent tapas bars and a grandiose cathedral.
Marbella is the Costa del Sol’s classiest (and most expensive) resort. This wealth glitters most brightly along the Golden Mile, a tiara of star-studded clubs, restaurants and hotels stretching from Marbella to Puerto Banús, the flashiest marina on the Costa del Sol, where black-tinted Mercs slide along a quayside of luxury yachts.