Off the Beaten Path in Southern Spain by Rail

The Moorish presence in Andalusia was more than a military conquest; it was a cultural synthesis. Their architectural masterpieces, the Arab Baths, reflect this blending of traditions and lifestyle.

Today, a visit to one of these baths offers the best of both worlds—an opportunity to experience tradition while indulging in modern luxury.

1. Mijas Pueblo

Mijas Pueblo is a charming whitewashed village nestled high above the Mediterranean Sea and Costa del Sol in the mountains of Sierra de Mijas. One of Andalusia’s most well-known villages, it attracts visitors from across the globe due to its fascinating rich culture and stunning natural surroundings.

It is a very picturesque village, with a handful of cobbled streets and houses that exude Andalusian charm. The village is a popular tourist destination and the locals are warm and welcoming to all who visit.

You can enjoy a variety of restaurants and bars in the village. Many of the restaurants have terraces where you can enjoy meals while taking in the amazing views. In the summer, you can also visit a number of outdoor auditoriums where light and music shows are held.

The village’s church is small and charming. It was built on the site of a former mosque and has a Mudejar style. The interior is very simple and is decorated with a number of paintings.

There are a number of interesting museums in the town that provide an insight into the region’s past and its culture. The Ethnographic Museum (Museo Histórico Etnológico de Mijas) is located across from the San Sebastian Chapel on Plaza de la Libertad and tells the story of the village through everyday objects and displays.

The Mijas municipality also includes the beach resort of La Cala de Mijas, which is known for its gorgeous beaches and has a number of restaurants, tapas bars and “chiringitos” where you can enjoy drinks and snacks by the ocean. It is a very beautiful area that has become popular with foreign residents due to the low cost of living, the excellent weather and the proximity to the cities of Malaga and Fuengirola.

2. beda

Amid its rocky, cove-dotted landscape, salt flats and scrubland, Cabo de Gata enchants with a pristine coastline that’s virtually unpeopled. The park’s walking trails wind through holm-oak forests, while caves like Cueva de la Cabra attract spelunkers and a pilgrimage site hosts Neolithic art. Base yourself in castle-topped Zuheros or whitewashed Priego de Cordoba, then sample the region’s signature salmorejo, a thick, savory cousin to gazpacho.

This UNESCO World Heritage–listed mountainous village in Jaen Province is the gastronomic heart of Andalusia, where olive trees produce half the country’s yearly oil. Its charming streets lead past stone-built townhouses clad in fuchsia pink bougainvillea and surrounded by verdant gardens. For the best views of the landscape, head to La Vista de Medina restaurant, where sweeping vistas and a menu that includes roasted wild game and acorn-fed Iberian pig await.

Beda is also famous for its sweet morello cherry and aniseed liquor, served in sycomore-shell cups and glasses, along with jamon and cured meats. A guided tour of the local Bodegas Miura costs five euros and includes alcohol tasting throughout.

Much like the American South, Andalusia grapples with its own tumultuous history. Yet while the American South focuses on a more fixed, centralized narrative, the people of Spain’s Southwest understand that each person’s story—from Moorish roots to the Christian Reconquista—is part of the greater whole. That understanding explains why the region is so receptive to the stories of others—as long as you’re willing to listen. For more inspiration, consider this six-night trip to Barcelona and Madrid by rail — or our eight-night exploration of the gastronomic heart of Andalusia. You’ll ride Renfe’s FEVE trains, from the city of Oviedo to soulful regional capital Seville and Cadiz’s wildly beautiful coast.

3. Granada

Granada is where the art, culture and history of Andalusia come to life. Framed by the mountain-perched Alhambra complex, opulent Nasrid Palaces and lush Generalife Gardens, this city is a real show-stopper. Indulge in a fusion of Andalusian flavours, soak up the artsy atmosphere and discover the city’s intriguing Islamic roots.

As you wander around the UNESCO World Heritage-listed streets, you’ll see the fusion of cultures that has shaped the city. The co-existence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish influences is visible all around you in the historic architecture and traditions still practiced today.

When in Granada, take advantage of the city’s renowned tapas scene and enjoy salir de tapas, or bar-hopping. This is a quintessential Granada experience where you’ll be offered small bites of local specialties, free with each drink you order. Taste the delicious combination of ingredients that granada is known for, like jamon serrano with tortilla de patatas, while enjoying the vibrant atmosphere and catching up with locals.

As you’re soaking up the local flavours, don’t forget to try the region’s signature dishes like Olla de San Anton, a winter dish made by slow cooking beans, pork, legumes and potatoes. It is traditionally eaten during the 17th of January in honour of Saint Anton, a patron saint of animals. The flavours are mellowed out by the long cooking time and it is served with cured ham, a tastily traditional pairing.

4. Almeria

For a true taste of Andalusian culture, you need to head to Almeria. Here you can enjoy a wide variety of experiences, from cultural routes to gastronomic and nature tourism in sun-parched landscapes.

While it’s not a top tourist destination, the city has a lot to offer. From a rich history (the Alcazaba, the Cathedral of Almeria) to a lively nightlife and food scene, there’s something for everyone in this city.

Its location on the border with Africa has influenced Almeria’s cultural identity. This can be seen in its language, music and the way it’s eaten, with Arab dishes (such as harira soup or grilled octopus) sharing the menu with classic Mediterranean cuisine.

The Municipality of Almeria, through the project CAMINA, has been fostering a new approach to promote Cultural Patrimony, as a tool for social integration. For this reason, it has focused its efforts on three deprived neighbourhoods: La Chanca-Pescaderia, Almedina and the Centre.

To boost the social transformation of these neighbourhoods, it’s essential to involve citizens in the process of co-designing a new collective narrative for their heritage and traditions. CAMINA’s delivery partners, Khora Urban Thinkers and Eptisa Servicios de Ingenieria, have been using this face-to-face strategy to build trust among local communities.

As part of this, they’ve incorporated the co-creation of a novel urban circular route. This will re-connect the three neighbourhoods through a series of cultural public spaces, one in each of them. The aim is to provide opportunities to visit and rediscover the cultural heritage of these neighbourhoods, for all citizens. This is an opportunity for those at risk of exclusion, such as migrants or Roma people, to be empowered with a sense of ownership and pride of their city.

5. Malaga

The capital of Andalusia has a lot to offer visitors. A highlight is the Picasso Museum that houses more than 230 works by the artist, who was born in Malaga. Muelle Uno, a section of the port that’s been transformed into an open-air shopping and dining center, is another popular attraction, as is Playa de la Malagueta, which can become crowded in summer, so arrive early for a spot on the sand.

The cosmopolitan city’s culinary scene is equally impressive. Many restaurants offer tapas, with the option to order small plates to share. Look for fried fish such as squid or cod, meat dishes like chorizo de bellota (made with typical Spanish acorn sausage) and desserts such as flan or the famous chocolate con churros. A variety of wines are available, so be sure to try the local Malagaso, a sweet dessert wine.

A walk through the historic center is an excellent way to see the old part of town. It features cobblestone streets, a beautiful church and palace, and a wide plaza where a bullfighting ring once stood. The Museo Casa y Palacio del Principe is also worth visiting for its collection of Spanish paintings from the 15th to the 19th centuries.

The 19th century was a time of economic hardship in Malaga. The city suffered from the ravages of the Peninsular War, conflict between royal absolutists and liberals, and the phylloxera epidemic that wiped out the vineyards. Nevertheless, its mild climate made it a favorite destination for wealthy English invalids. Lady Louisa Tennyson wrote, “there is no society in Malaga to compare with it for the enjoyment of life, the pleasure of amusement or the enjoyment of company.”

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