If you’re busy making travel plans for the year to come, can I suggest you plan a south Spain roadtrip to Sierra Navada, Frigiliana and Cabo De Gata?
I’m sure, much like mine, your list overfloweth, but in the event you have time a road trip around the south of Spain is worth it. Many of you will know that last year in October I was lucky enough to spend 2 weeks in the south of Spain, visiting the main cities of Cordoba, Granada and Seville, as well as visiting a few hidden gems that aren’t so much on the tourist trail. I’ve already published a guide to Granada (see here) and will be sharing city guides for Cordoba and Sevilla in the next few weeks. In the meantime I wanted to share with you the other section of the road trip, which was all about discovering lesser known places in the region. In this guide I’ll talk about 3 places – Frigiliana & Nerja, The Sierra Nevada Mountains and the national park of Cabo De Gata.
Our South of Spain Roadtrip Route
Before I deep dive into the three places I will cover in this post, I wanted to give you a quick overview of the whole trip. Although my flight landed in Malaga, we hired a car straight away and drove off so I didn’t include it. We headed straight along the coast to Nerja (and into the hills to check out Frigiliana) and then the following day we went to the Sierra Nevada mountains for 3 days. Ben and I then went down to the national park of Cabo De Gata for 2 days, and then continued around the top to Granada where we stopped for 3 days. After that we did Cordoba for 3 days and then Seville for 3 days before heading south to fly out of Malaga again. In total it was around a two week trip, which I think is what you need for this region (although you could do it in less).
We never visited the south of Spain when we lived in London, I think we had in mind huge resorts filled with tourists, all competing to get to the sun loungers in the morning… My mum suggested this trip, and needless to say it wasn’t like this whatsoever (at least in the areas we visited), it was stunning, delicious, diverse and surprising. All at once. Read on for three lesser known/ hidden gems places you have to visit when you go.
Hidden Gem 1: Nerja (& Frigiliana)
You guys! Always so helpful. Before I left my mum gave me the task of finding somewhere for us to stop after our flight (we decided to skip Malaga/most of the Costa del Sol because it seemed a little built up) and you guys suggested Nerja and Frigiliana. A quick scan on pinterest had me like ‘whoa’ and ‘yep’. Nerja is a lovely town on the coast, whilst Frigiliana is a white village in the hills. South of Spain is well known for its picturesque white villages, and Frigiliana has to be the most lovely one we visited. We stayed the night in Nerja, but went up to Frigliana for lunch – we found this place on a terrance overlooking the whole valley. We also got rid of jet lag by swimming and having coffee at a few of the beaches along the coast – so many gorgeous ones and it pays to take a little time.
Stay: At this tiny hotel.
Eat: Up in the hills at this restaurant.
See & Do: Wander the cobbled streets of Frigiliana, visit the beaches of Playa de Maro and Cala del Cañeulo (our faves!), visit Nerja’s donkey sanctuary and check out Nerja’s Sunday/Tuesday markets.
Discovering the high streets of Frigliana
Such a dreamy spot to land after 22 hours travelling!
Lunch on the terrace at The Garden restaurant – really was some of the best food of the trip.
Dreaming of relocating 🙂
Blending into the white walls.
Eating and relaxing at Playa de Moro
Vintage inspired swimsuits for the win.
Hidden Gem 2: The Sierra Nevada
The second hidden spot on our South Spain Roadtrip was the Sierra Nevada. Visiting the mountains of the Sierra Nevada was, in fact, the whole purpose for this trip, you’ll remember my mum wanted us to hike the hills there. I had never heard of the region before and was so surprised at how stunning it was. Known for its white villages called ‘The Alpujarras’, the mountains are home to stunning scenery, olive groves, shepherds and huge flocks of sheep and all in all a wonderfully rural and simple way of life. And virtually no phone service! I read the book Driving Over Lemons before I went which gave a really comical/sweet take on the place. Basically the Sierra Nevada are mountains with a National Park, and tiny little towns in the hills surrounding the park. It’s a deceptively long drive to all the towns (we only saw a section) and the scenery changes dramatically between the different valleys.
Stay We stayed at Hotel Estrella in the lowest of the three famous villages – Pampaniera. I loved this village so much and think it’s a great place to base yourself.
Eat & Drink Chances are you’ll be driving all over the mountains – hiking and visiting towns and will naturally get hungry. My favourite place was El Rincon in Yegen – one of those cosy Spanish homestyle restuarants you could pull up a chair and drink Rioja all day. If you like ham you’ll also have to visit the town of Trevelez – home of amazing Spanish ham, again best enjoyed with copious Rioja.
See & Do So much to do! And because we were only around for a few days this is definitely not an exhaustive list. Without fail you have to do the ‘Three Villages’ walk between the three villages of Capiliera, Bubion, Pampaniera, I understand that these are the most picturesque villages in the region and so lovely. Another hike that looked amazing but was on the other side of the mountains was called Los Cohoros, with all these incredible hanging bridges. Next time?
Hiking through stunning small towns.
The twisted cobblestone alleys of Pampaniera got my heart in a big way.
We stopped at this place for ham and wine (don’t expect to be inundated with vegetables in this part of the world!).
Might have dropped a few pesetas here…
The approach into Bubion on the three villages walk.
The quiet streets of Bubion.
Out of gym gear and into a party dress for sun downers… Ole!
The most incredible of sunsets from out hotel…
Hidden Gem 3: Cabo De Gata
Ben and I took a little detour from the family for a night to go and explore Cabo De Gata, an area our friends told us about. I didn’t know what to expect and was amazed at just how incredible it was (after you drive for 3 hours through wall to wall tomato greenhouses- as far as the eye can see!). In complete contrast to the package tourist areas of the Costa Del Sol, Cabo De Gata is a national park and one of the largest protected coastal areas in Spain. Rugged, dry hills lead to hidden bays of clear water, cliffs of multiple colours and coral reefs. We started at the top of the park, visiting the towns of Agua Amarga, Las Negras and San Jose. The next day we saw the rest of the park, stopping at San Miguel de Cabo De Gata before heading off. The perfect stop off on our South Spain Roadtrip
Side note: Driving through the park we had strange sense of familiarity – I kept saying ‘Ben I feel like we’re driving through the desert in Navada!’. After googling I found out that this region was where all the Spaghetti Westerns of the mid 1960’s were filmed- they looked the same as the deserts of the USA but were apparently cheaper to film. Hundreds of cowboy films were shot there, (The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, A Fist Full of Dollars etc) as well as Cleopatra and Indiana Jones. There’s even a set of an old main street you can visit!
Stay We stayed in Agua Amarga here. I liked the look of this hotel but it wasn’t close to the beach, perhaps if we stayed longer it would have been a nice retreat. There aren’t many hotels outside of San Jose but lots of little hostels.
Eat & Drink We opted for eating at the little cabanas on the beach at Agua Amarga most of the time.
See & Do The area is known for some incredible beaches, with stunning rock formations. It’s best to start at one end and drive along, visiting all the different towns along the way. We hiked to incredible Cala de Enmedio and Cala Del Plomo, both beaches that were near Agua Amarga. We also visiting the cute fishing town of San Miguel, which has a bird habitat zone where at certain times of the year pink flamingoes nest (!!).
As an example of the amazing contrast in the scenery… Above is looking from one side of the road inland. And below (me in the water) is looking in the other direction out the sea… Wow!
The map said 10 minutes to hike to Playa de Enmedio… It ended up being 40… Denim shorts and wet swimsuit were a bit of a fail.
The most stunning morning light
Fisherman friends at San Miguel
Such incredible scenery… Kept thinking we would round the corner to a bunch of cowboys having a shoot out!
The back streets of La Negras
Calle de Enmedio
Those flat top mountains got me thinking of cowboys (again)
Absolutely crystal clear waters
Stay tuned for my guides to Cordoba and Seville coming very shortly, which will complete our South of Spain Roadtrip! Gorgeous illustrated map by Annie Huang.