Andalucía is the second largest region in Spain. It measures around 500 kilometres from end to end, so if you decide you’d like to see as much of it as you can in 6 days then your best bet is to hire a car and have total flexibility on how you do it, and when you do it. Steve and I had exactly 6 days to explore, and in hindsight, we’d change our itinerary slightly if we were to do it again, but what we did see was truly fun and beautiful.
I was heading to Malaga for a work trip, and as I was able to take a plus one Steve and I decided to make the most of the free flights and extend our stay. Who wouldn’t, right? We love Spain, but I’m not sure we’d actively have gone out and planned this kind of itinerary if it wasn’t for having the work trip, but I’m so glad we had the opportunity as not only did we get to have a child-free holiday, we also got to discover certain parts of Spain that had been on our bucket list for a while.
At some point in the future, we’ll go back and visit the bigger cities such as Seville or Granada, but for this trip, we wanted to stick to the smaller, prettier towns. The kind of white-washed (influenced by the Berber architecture of North Africa,) small hilltop towns that are slightly less touristy and offer something different to the bustling, overcrowded summer hotspots. Plus, I’d really like to go back to Seville and be able to spend longer than a day there. I feel it’ll be one of those cities that deserves a lot more than being part of a busy six-day itinerary. There are 1000 different ways you could choose to plan your Andalucían road trip, but for a pair of first-timers, this route was a good place to start.
(And yes, I realise Gibraltar doesn’t really count as being Andalusian, but we were so close and it seemed a shame to not stop off and see it.)
For all our driving holidays, I’m the driver, and Steve is the navigator. Sat-nav isn’t always the easiest to use when driving in unfamiliar areas so Steve is absolutely the best co-pilot I could hope for. Whilst I’m busy focusing on the road and what’s going on, he totally takes control of where we’re going. I’m pretty sure I’d be dreadful at being the navigator so this way around suits us fine. Having driven many times now in Europe, including our trips to Tuscany, Rome, Sicily, Cyprus, I’ve even driven in Los Angeles (never again though), I find it easy and can adapt quite quickly to driving on the other side of the road, and car!
If you relax, take your time, and go a little slower than what you would at home, it’s all good.
Also, if you’re really worried about driving through those small Andalucían towns and up the steepest of hills, get yourself an automatic – it’s so so much easier.
What you will notice as you drive through Andalucía is the amazing countryside: lush green hills and olive trees as far as the eyes can see. The driving is all part of the fun.
I’ve always hired a car through Europecar as I find them easy to book with, you always get the class of car you choose, they never ask for some insane amount of deposit and when it comes to picking up and dropping off your car, they’re the most flexible.
The one thing I’ll always remember first about Malaga is how hot it was. I’m never very good with city heat so unfortunately, we didn’t do too much but laze at our beautiful hotel, hire scooters, eat and drink! Relaxation was to be the order of the day! Not that I’m complaining, I’d do anything to be doing those four things right now.
Plus, our hotel was the 5* Gran Hotel Miramar (thank you to work!) and sometimes it’s nice to just make the most of something so swanky. Overlooking the beach, insanely beautiful and with a roof-top bar facing out over the sea, I really, quite honestly, just needed to chill! I also knew we had 5 days of exploring ahead of us and to fully appreciate Malaga, one of the biggest cities in Andalucía, I’d need to come back another time.
Scooting up the beachfront to a restaurant by the Marina was something that made me feel like a big kid. In a good way. I can’t wait to take Coby and Lucy back and see their faces when they realise that it’s totally the norm to grab an electric scooter and whizz around the city. Using an app, you just tap the scooter to unlock it and you can drop it off wherever you like when you’re done – well nearly. There’s a couple of zones where you can’t, but overall, it’s a fantastic fun idea.
We were only in Malaga for 24 hours before having to pick up our hire car from the train station, but it absolutely gave me a taste of what Malaga life is like and we will return for a long weekend sometime.
Possibly when there isn’t a heatwave!
I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to going to Marbella because I really wasn’t. I was being a bit judgy and if anything, staying optimistic about it was tough. Most likely because I didn’t know too much about it apart from its reputation on TV and for it being a rich, party town!
But, I have to take it back a little as it was really quite pretty in parts, the beaches were very clean, it was fun and you don’t have to walk around the marina and busy area if you don’t want to – but if you’re a people watcher like me, you have to at least do it once! 😉
Sitting by the marina one evening we had a lovely dinner whilst sipping on Aperol and watching the sunset. There absolutely is more to ‘Marbs’ than you realise.
The boats are gigantic, the tans are orange (sorry but they were!) and there are people that are there for the glam side of life. But it’s an experience.
Our hotel was the BlueBay Banus and it had one of the best balconies I’ve had in ages. Roomy with big comfy seats, sitting there for a whole morning with a coffee, croissant and fresh orange juice was heavenly. The hotel is a bit impersonal, but it has all the comforts you need and was clean, quiet(ish), and thank god, not full of drunk tourists. We stayed here for two nights but spent our second day back in the car exploring.
So many people told me that Gibraltar wasn’t worth visiting and I started to wonder what on earth could be wrong with it. Long story short, I totally disagreed! I don’t think I’d stay there for longer than a day but if you’re in this part of Spain seeing Gibraltar is kind of needed.
We climbed The Rock of Gibraltar. Sorry, I lie. We got the cable car up. Now I know some of you reading this will know how much a cable car freaks me out. I hate them and I’m not exactly sure why. However, I do make myself go on them as I know the results are worth it. I had the same issues in Madeira and Croatia, and I’m hoping the more I go on them, the easier it will be.
Reaching the top is relatively quick and I’m sure it was faster than the six minutes advertised. Once you do get there, the views are incredible: you can see over the ocean to Africa, out to the Bay of Algeciras and along the Mediterranean coast to the east.
We bought a ticket that meant we could see the nature reserve and spend a little more time with the famous monkeys.
Within 2 minutes of being up there, I climbed some stairs to the viewing platform and saw a monkey just sitting there all calm eating someone else’s crisps! It’s true what they say, these monkeys will take everything so keep your valuables safe. We saw one girl running after her sunglasses!
The staff are very helpful, and we chatted to a few about the monkeys. You can really tell they care about them and it’s quite nice to listen to their stories and facts about life in Gibraltar.
Shortly after making our way down, we headed back to the border and easily drove back into Spain. I’m glad we went, and I quite enjoyed the little flashes of home too. Road signs, pubs, red phone boxes, money, police cars etc. It’s a fun place to visit and again, we’d go back with Coby and Lucy sometime.
Was the cute little town of Estepona. I’d had it marked on my map after seeing a photo on Instagram as it looked so idyllic and what I picture ‘real’ Spain to be like. Sandy beaches, white-washed buildings, limited tourists, paella and siestas! Everything I’d imagined was right, and it was perfect.
We paid €1 for all-day parking – €1!! Five minutes from the beach too. Wandering down the beachfront waiting for the right restaurant or tapas bar was the only decision we had to make. Both a bit sleepy from the heat, both feeling very hungry after all the walking in Gibraltar we were ready for a lazy lunch.
After around 30 minutes of wandering, we spotted somewhere with tables facing the sea, a simple menu (with plenty of veggie options) and settled ourselves in. Driving back after this was going to be tough!
On our way back to the car we wandered some more around the backstreets, people-watched the locals, drank iced coffee, ate a giant churro and headed back to our hotel in Marbella… for a long much-needed snooze!
Now I was VERY excited about Ronda. Steve was too, it had been on his travel ‘bucket list’ for years and it was even more charming than what we’d imagined it to be. The fact that this town is even able to exist where it does seems impossible.
Within minutes of arriving, we were checking if our hotel (this one) had availability for another night but having picked the only hotel in town with a rooftop pool, in peak season, it was obviously full.
A quick freshen up and our bags left (unpacked) in the hotel room, we eagerly headed straight out. We wandered over to the Palacio del Rey Moro which was just opposite our hotel, snapped away with our cameras when standing on the Mirador de Aldehuela and Balcón del Coño Viewpoints and said lots of times “oooh, look at that” or “wow, can you see that” as the views of the gorge, the Puente Nuevo and the surrounding countryside are spectacular.
The town is full of quaint narrow streets lined with cafes and shops, beautiful terraces with views, and even ancient Arab Baths.
You can’t visit Ronda without seeing the Puente Nuevo. More than once. Offering unforgettable views over the El Tajo gorge. The Puente Nuevo – (new bridge) – was completed in 1793 and took forty-two years to build. The bridge joins the old town and the newer, El Mercadillo parts of the city. It is, by far, Ronda’s most famous landmark.
If you can, walk down to the bottom. It’s not too steep or strenuous and worth it for another amazing viewpoint looking up, instead of down.
Believe it or we booked our tickets for walking the Caminito del Ray weeks before visiting but because we ended up staying in Ronda a little bit longer, we missed our time slot and there were no other tickets available. We were both feeling a bit sad about it because walking the Caminito del Ray is the only real reason to visit El Chorro.
Our hotel, La Garaganta then asked us on check-in if we needed tickets and we were literally ecstatic! Absolutely yes, we did. They arranged them on the spot and what was even better was the fact that this hotel is about a five-minute walk from the endpoint of the Caminito del Ray.
I am going to do a separate post on the famous walk with lots of tips that we picked up and learnt from other walkers and our hotel, but if there’s one thing I’d advise – stay here! It was just perfect. Completely remote, tranquil, a little bit quirky and the food was outstanding.
The pool was terrific, and as it was around 42°C both days we were there when you get to the finish line of the Caminito del Ray, the thought of jumping in the pool just keeps you going that extra few minutes longer.
Our last stop of this holiday before heading back to Malaga for our flight home was probably the shortest stop of all. And the only time Steve and I had a fallout! Nothing major, I just took a wrong turn whilst driving (a standard couple fallout right?!), and mainly because I ended up driving down a road I shouldn’t. Through the windiest, tightest road you could imagine and I, of course, blamed him and his navigation skills! 😉 Locals looked at us with confusion, some shook their heads like they’d seen it all before, and others helped us out!
The advantage of this wrong turn was that we got to drive under the mountain with little houses built in at the bottom. The streets wind down from the castle taking the path of the river and locals have learned to take advantage of the cliff to build their houses.
Finding a parking space was easy and once out of the drama we took the first one we saw, and I urgently ordered a drink and a big fat slice of Spanish cheesecake to calm me down. All was right again, and we laughed about it.
Setenil de las Bodegas was unlike any other town I’ve ever seen. Can you imagine what would life be like in a town where your house or your local coffee shop had a mountain of rocks on top of it? A natural wonder like no other. Steve and I loved every minute of walking around and exploring this incredibly charming town. It was the perfect end to a perfect trip.
Hasta Luego España!
We both felt relaxed, happy and for me, having nearly a full week of just time for me and him meant everything.
Out of all our stops, Ronda and El Chorro were our favourites. No question about it. The driving routes, the scenery, the food, it was just perfect.
Have you driven around Spain like this before or even visited any of these places? Did we miss something you think we should see?
**This post contains affiliate links where if you click I may get a small amount of commission.