Andalusia has a lot to offer. Beautiful nature and architectural wonders which reflect the centuries of interesting history in this part of Spain. But it is also a perfect region for those who love to observe local traditions. Who want to talk to people with interesting stories from the past. Enjoy local dishes and wines at a terrace in a small village. We invite you to leave the roads most travelled and get a glimpse of daily life in Andalusia.
Driving away from the coast you can find the many typical white villages with their tiny winding streets and pretty squares. On every corner you’ll see details from the past mixed with the realities of modern life. Houses with huge wooden doors that are centuries old but have a modern door bell, beautiful flowers planted in old petrol cans. Elderly woman in aprons sweeping the street, even people walking with donkeys and riding horses.
It’s in these kind of villages where you can observe the true Andalusian spirit: making good use of whatever materials they can get their hands on and making the best of life. Things haven’t been easy for the people who live in these villages. Those of about 65 years old remember having to go to bed hungry, people between 40 and 50 years old have memories of accompanying their mothers to the public area for washing clothes in the central plaza of the village. Nowadays everybody has a mobile phone and fashion is more or less the same as in the rest of Europe, yet visiting these villages gives you a glimpse back in time and a chance to experience a tranquil, traditional way of life.
As a tourist you will of course never form part of the Andalusian society, but you do have the chance to observe and play your part. Start your day with breakfast in a local bar, inside, not on the terrace with the tourists. Take a seat at the bar and order the same as your neighbour. If this is an elderly farmer who enjoys a strong alcoholic beverage with his “tostada con tomate” (toasted bread with fresh tomatoes), bear in mind he has been working since 6 o’clock and is used to drinking this. You might want to just stick to a coffee, which is usually wonderful even in the simplest bars.
Then take a stroll through the village and see how women water the flowers and men gather on a bench under a tree at the main square. If you are a woman, why not treat yourself to some pampering and have an adventure by visiting the local hairdresser. Just ask for a wash and blow-dry (lavado and peinado), and they’ll understand you. Listen to the other women exchanging local gossip while they get their hair done. Image is important for the Spaniards, things have to be clean and beautiful. They’d rather save on food than miss out on their weekly visit to the hairdresser. If you are a man, get a shave in the local barbershop. Warm towels, a real knife and strong aftershave, you won’t need a shave for at least 2 days. At about 2 o’clock it’s time for lunch. Order a selection of the local tapas, or the set menu (Menu Del Dia) a three course feast which is very affordable. Don’t be afraid to try things you never would eat at home. If you want tapas, there’s normally a counter with a selection of things that you can just point at and choose, which makes things easier. Now it’s time for a taste of the local wine or maybe a refreshing beer. Lunch is a leisurely affair followed by a siesta and until 5 o’clock the village is completely quiet and everything is closed, so you might want to take a rest yourself. Then the village comes to life again. Children play in the streets, guys try to impress girls while showing off the tricks they can do on their motorbikes. Dinner is at about 9, or as late as 11 in the summer! This is why lunch is normally the biggest meal of the day.
If you have the chance to attend mass on a Sunday, we would definitely recommend it. It is a totally different affair from the rest of Europe. Most men stay outside smoking, children walk in and out and the songs are joyous, the atmosphere sublime and the churches beautiful.
Where to go
Each village has its own unique charms, so the best thing you can do is just take out an old fashioned map and look for a name that sounds interesting to you. Enjoy the drive, stop wherever you want to take it all in – look, feel, smell, your senses will be in overdrive.
If you are interested in the wine culture the La Axarquía region is a great choice. The biggest village there is Cómpeta, famous for its Muscatel wines. You can even visit one of the bodegas and see how they make the wine, tour the facilities and of course have a tasting of this delicious sweet wine. The Guadalhorce Valley has always been the region where all fruits and vegetables for the province of Málaga come from. Coín is the capital and the moment you drive into the village you will see lots of superb fruit and vegetable stalls and shops selling agricultural products and machines. The seasonal produce is delicious and very well priced, so stop and sample some. On Sunday there is a local farmer’s market near the commercial centre La Trocha at the entrance to the village.
The province of Cádiz is known for its spectacular nature and rock formations. The winding roads will lead you to several pretty traditional villages. While you are in the area you should definitely continue to the Doñana National Park, a 543km2 natural reserve including marshes, streams and sand dunes. We’d also recommend a visit to El Rocio village, with scenery straight from the Wild West! Every year thousands of pilgrims go there with their horses and carriages to honour the Virgen of El Rocio.
This is just a small selection of what you can do. Take your time to enjoy and discover life in Andalusia. Walk into the country side and see people working on their land. Taste the best, simple Spanish food in a bar with the locals. Stand on the top of the mountain and take in the immensity of nature. Talk to people, you’ll be surprised how many things one can learn just by exchanging smiles, gestures and a few words. These are experiences you don’t want to miss and seem a world away from cosmopolitan Marbella!