April 2024: As part of a 3-week baby bonding family vacation with our 9-month-old daughter, we visited Andalucia, Spain and Gibraltar for 6 days to experience the rich blend of Spanish, Moorish and Gypsy culture that the region is known for. To more easily explore the region, we hired a car and self-drove. This was our itinerary during the trip:

Day 1:

Depart Ryan Air via Marrakesh to Malaga 

1.5 hours’ drive to Grenada in rental car

Grenada cave hotel

Day 2:

Visit Alhambra 

Gypsy cave flamenco show at night

2md night Granada cave hotel

 

Day 3:

Drive to Ronda 1:30 minutes

Visit Castillo de Turon

Stay in Ronda in Hotel Don Miguel overlooking old bridge

 

Day 4:

Gibraltar 1 hour drive, Gibraltar Nature Reserve

Gibraltar Cable Car

O’Hara’s Battery

The World War II Tunnels 

Stay in hotel near Gibraltar in Spain

 

Day 5:

 Drive to Arcos de la Frontera 1 1/2 drive

Sleep in old town 

Day 6:

Drive to Seville and depart to Sardinia via Ryan Air, 1 1/2 drive

A map of our route in Andalucia

A Gypsy Cave Hotel in Grenada

We started our trip in Grenada arriving in the evening from Malaga in our rental car. We are searching for our accommodation, a gypsy cave in Sacromonte hill that had been converted into a guesthouse. It was a challenge to find this location in the Grenada old town in the area of the Alhambra fortress. The streets were unbearably narrow, and our SUV nearly scratched the surface of the alley walls or parked vehicles in single lane roads on numerous occasions. To top it off, our GPS was easily confused in the old town streets with the various one-way streets and would often lead us to a dead end or an alley where we were too big if to fit. After hours of trying to find our guesthouse and messaging my contact, we finally found a place to unload our luggage, but we still had to walk up hill 30 minutes with all of our luggage and then I had to find a place to park the vehicle for the night on the public street. Fortunately, the guesthouse manager was able to use the small vehicle of the guesthouse’s owner, a friendly Gypsy woman who had a common love of traveling the world. We were able to haul our luggage to the cave guesthouse and then I had a chance to practice my parallel parking skills. Almost a mile away, I parked my SUV on a steep hill with nearly zero margin of error in between other vehicles and after a few attempts to I was able to squeeze the car in and I vowed to not drive again for the two nights were staying in Grenada so that I didn’t have to repeat this very stressful night of driving.

Once the stress of checking in and parking our car was behind us, we were able to soak in some of our surroundings. The Sacromonte hill was a magical place at night under a full moon. Across the canyon on the other side was the grand illuminated castle walls of the Alhambra. The Sacromonte Hill was best explored on foot since the roads were narrow and steep and we walked around looking for food, but it was too late, and all restaurants were closes. Most of the restaurants and homes were carved out of the mountain into caves. Some were guesthouses and renovated to look nice while others were shabby where normal people lived and had clothes lines with clothes hung out to dry. The only life was the rhythm of tap dancing, and guitars and gypsy flamenco singers. I came across a couple private gatherings of friends in their courtyards playing flamenco guitar and singing melancholic tunes that gave me goosebumps. I have always loved flamenco guitar and wish I could have learned how to play it.

 

 

Our cave guesthouse

We loved our guesthouse, a cool two-bedroom place tucked away inside the cave with white painted walls. It likely was lived in at one time by a gypsy family for generations like many of the cave guesthouses in the area but now with the huge influx of tourism, converted to a guesthouse for tourists. This was one of the most unique places I have stayed in our travels.

Indie in our bed at Our cave guesthouse

Our cave guesthouse

Happy memories in our cave guesthouse

Mixed in with the tourist guesthouses were other cave homes where gypsy families lived and many of them were not renovated to appear as fancy as the tourist ones. In much of Europe areas where gypsies live tend to have higher incidents of crime but other than a few innocuous encounters with a few intoxicated gypsy men, we never had any issues.

 

 

A cave home 

Alhambra Moorish Castle

of course, when in Grenada, a visit to the 11th century Moorish Alhambra palace is in order. The Alhambra sits imposing overlooking the city of Grenada on a hilltop and but within its gates is sheer opulence and extravagance in one of the best-preserved Islamic era palaces in Europe. The Alhambra was built by the Islamic Moors when they ruled Spain and after their defeat the Alhambra remained the place of Spanish rule for years to come. To reach the Alhambra we walked from our cave guesthouse, and I thought the walk up the hill passed the old walls, flowing creek and waterfalls was one of the best parts of the visit.

 

 

Alhambra Palace

Me carrying Indie to the Alhambra Palace

Family Portrait at the Alhambra Palace

Alhambra Palace

Alhambra Palace

Alhambra Palace

Alhambra Palace

Alhambra Palace

Alhambra Palace

Gypsy Cave Flamenco Show

probably even more important when in Grenada than visiting the Alhambra is to also see a gypsy cave flamenco show. We booked ours in advance and had a glass of red wine and a few tapas before entering. The show was in a small cave with the spectators in chairs up against the walls while the dancers, sang, tap danced and played guitar. It was amazing and Indie loved it but I had to remove her after ten minutes because it was too loud for her little baby ears.

 

 

Indie and me at the cave gypsy show

Cave Flamenco show

Cave Flamenco show

Exploring the Back Roads

After Ronda, I had a plan to drive to Ronda via back roads and visit all kinds of interesting off the beaten path places like abandoned castles, caves, mountains and whatever we came across but traveling with a baby is slow and we got a late start so we only had time to visit a ruined castle- Castillo de Turon, a hilltop Moorish castle that was defeated by Castellan soldiers in the 1400s. This little castle would end up being one of our favorite experiences in Spain. It was nowhere to be found on the tourist trail and to get there we drove down winding dirt roads where we had to ask farmers for help with directions. We almost got stuck in a river we had to cross and at one point we were swallowe3d by an enormous herd of goats being led by their shepherd. The ruined castle has been forgotten by time and civilization long ago and only a few walls remain standing sentry over a hilltop with sweeping views of the rolling green hills and mountains. It was Spring and the weather was great and flowers in full bloom. Pula and i hiked up to the castle and we had the whole place to ourselves. These are the types of adventures that I love the most when traveling.

 

 

Castillo de Turon

Castillo de Turon

The World’s Most Incredible Bridge-Ronda

In all of my travels I have never seen a bridge more impressive than the Puente nuevo bridge, a 390′ tall stone bridge that towers over a lush river canyon that divides the medieval town of Ronda. The bridge was completed in 1793 and is simply a marvel of construction and I could not get enough of it, so I decided to book us a hotel room with a balcony overlooking the bridge and canyon before.

 

Puente Nuevo

Puente Nuevo

The British Territory of Gibraltar

At the tip of a peninsula jutting out into the mediterranean where the narrowest inlet of land separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean exists is Gibraltar, a territory of the United Kingdom. This is a highlight of traveling to the south of Spain for its significance in history and its beauty. From Ronda we drove through a spectacular mountain range to get to the coast and we drove along a main highway on the coast until the rock of Gibraltar came into sight. I booked a hotel with a view from our balcony of the rock of Gibraltar and that was in walking distance to its border. The border crossing was smooth and at the border we booked a private driver to take us to all of the main attractions, St Michaels Cave, World War II tunnels, the view from the top of the rock and of course to see the wild macaque monkeys that rule the mountain.

 

 

Rock of Gibraltar

Gibraltar Macaque

St Michaels Cave

Wild macaque in a tourist shop

Paula and Indie with new friend

View from top

WWII tunnel

Hilltop Walled Mideivel Town of Arco de la Frontera

Our last night in Spain was spent in a family run guesthouse in the medieval village of Arco de La Frontera, which at one time existed at the edge of the Moorish domain over Spain.

 

 

View of the hilltop town

View from our rooftop terrace

One of the old churches

One of the old churches

One of the old churches

One of the old churches

One of the old churches

We departed Sevile to Sardinia

 

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