Discover why Spanish nature reserves are considered one of the best in Europe

Discover why Spanish nature reserves are considered one of the best in Europe

Get ready to discover why Spanish nature reserves, are considered among the best destinations in Europe. With 52 UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserves, there are a multitude of diverse ecosystems and rich natural landscapes to enjoy.

Read on and marvel at the 5 natural wonders hidden within its borders.

1. Irati Forest (Navarre)

The Irati forest is one of Europe’s largest beech and fir woodlands. Crossed by the rivers Zatoya and Andueña, Irati is an immense expanse of green, consisting of 17,000 hectares of almost pristine land. You can see herds of deer. Go hiking. And discover the fabulous legends connected with its valleys: Aezkoa and Salazar.

2. Doñana National Park

Doñana is home to more than 230 species of birds and you might be lucky enough to see breathtaking scenes such as the “pink carpet” that the flamingo colonies create when they feed. In fact, the marshlands are a staging, breeding and wintering site for thousands of European and African birds.
Among the varied landscapes, you’ll be amazed at natural phenomena like the mobile dunes (some over 30 meters high) which move from the beach and bury all the pine groves in their path.
Doñana National Park Huelvaa Andalusia Spain

3. Somiedo Natural Park (Asturias)

Somiedo Natural Park is a route through lakes. A biosphere reserve where there are bears, five valleys, and sights to marvel such as the Brañas, vast summer pastures of grassland and water. Explore its 200 kilometres of unspoiled natural scenery at your leisure.

4. Bardenas Reales Natural Park(Navarre)

An ideal destination for film lovers, the desert-like landscape of Bardenas has featured in iconic series like Game of Thrones. Take off on foot or by bike, and unwind among the sands, plateaus and ravines of another galaxy.

Doñana National Park Huelvaa Andalusia Spain

5.  As Catedrais beach (Galicia)

It’s only when the tide is out that you can wander among the impressive arches and caves on the seashore. The clear waters of the sea are divided by strands of white sand. You’ll never forget this imposing natural monument.
Choose Andalusia and get soaked the joy of southern Spain

Choose Andalusia and get soaked the joy of southern Spain

If you are looking for a few days rest by the sea, southern Spain has so much to offer you in Andalusia. Its coast, bathed by the Mediterranean sea and the Atlantic ocean, is famous for its miles long beaches. Discover pretty villages with white-washed houses and a bunch of cultural options and entertainment for relaxing.

Costa de Almeria

The Costa de Almería is well known for its coves and almost virgin-like beaches where you can enjoy the sea in complete tranquillity. This is perhaps the sunniest area in Europe and it enjoys this condition for almost 95% of the year.

The environment of the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park has some of the best examples as well as volcanic landscapes of outstanding beauty.  Some good options from its towns and villages include Mojacar, with its picturesque outline of white houses), the fishing port of Carboneras and Roquetas de Mar for its long beaches.

 

Costa tropical

The Mediterranean continues in Andalusia towards Granada.  Here, more than 70 kilometres of coastline are known as the Tropical Coast because it has over 320 days a year of sun and average temperature of 20 degrees.

Its landscapes are formed with a combination of sea and mountains with rural areas of great interest such as the Sierra Nevada National Park or Las Alpujarras.

Motril, with its interesting old quarter, is the most highly populated town on the coast. Salobreña catches ones attention because its white houses sweep down a hill opposite the sea towards its Moorish castle. Almuñécar boasts large beaches lapped by turquoise water, which are protected by the mountains.

Costa del sol

Málaga and Marbella are the two largest international cities on the Costa del Sol. A paradise for golfers and a delight for their companions. Apart from the wide range of cultural, leisure and retail activities offered by the two large cities on this coastline, you can find squares and streets full of charm in places like Benalmádena, Mijas or Estepona. Pretty hidden gems with narrow streets running between white-washed houses adorned with flowers and small terraces where you can sit, relax and soak up the moment. And the nearest beach is never far away to enjoy the Mediterranean.

Costa de la luz

Next we come to the Costa de la luz, which extends between the provinces of Cádiz and Huelva. Its name (“Coast of Light”) is not by chance and responds to the area’s luminosity. There are over 200 kilometres of coastline in total with some of the very best beaches in Spain.

Cadiz
Cádiz is the country’s most southerly point and where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Here you can find pretty towns and villages with sea views at almost any point of the coast between San Roque and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. For example, Vejer de la Frontera is a maze of narrow streets dotted with white houses and fantastic viewpoints over the Mediterranean. Conil de la Frontera is a small, peaceful village located between extensive golden sand beaches. And places like Zahara de los Atunes or Caños de Meca are havens for unwinding.

Doñana National Park Huelvaa Andalusia Spain
Huelva

The long beaches continue in Huelva, with municipalities such as Punta Umbría and Islantilla, which are particularly family-oriented. This area is characterized by its marshlands and the presence of the Doñana National Park.

If you stay in municipalities such as Moguer, Palos de la Frontera or Ayamonte, you will be able to enjoy the extensive, peaceful almost virgin beaches in Torre del Loro, La Bota, Los Enebrales or Cuesta Maneli, among other places.

Doñana National Park

Doñana is one of Europe’s most beautiful and important wetlands. What makes this national park, between the Andalusian provinces of Huelva, Seville, and Cadiz, so special is that in just one day you can see very different ecosystems: marshland, lagoons, pine groves, aloe veras, moving dunes, cliffs, 30 kilometers of unspoiled white beaches.
Flamenco Birds Doñana National Park Southern Spain Andalusia
Flamenco Birds Doñana National Park Southern Spain Andalusia
Flamenco Birds Doñana National Park Southern Spain Andalusia

Flavours of the Andalusian Coast

Good food is an essential ingredient of a few days of relaxation and in the south of Andalusia, you can find some really tasty dishes to enjoy at mealtime. There are famous dishes such as gazpacho or salmorejo (two cold soups featuring tomato as the main ingredient) and essential products like extra virgin olive oil or Iberian cured ham, but as this trip takes in the coast, here we highlight some of the region’s most popular fish and seafood products.

Some star dishes include the prawns from Huelva, pescaíto frito (fried fish), tuna from almadraba, typical above all in Cádiz, the espetos de sardinas (sardine skewers grilled on the beach) particularly popular in Málaga, the seafood soup in Almería (normally prepared with monkfish and shellfish), moraga de sardina (a typical sardine stew from Granada and Málaga) and the salted fish and seafood along the entire coast.

Carmen de los Martires gardens

Carmen de los Martires gardens

Carmen de Los Martires

The hidden gardens of Alhambra

 

Carmen de Los Martires is a 19th-century construction made up of a palace building and vast gardens; a French Baroque garden with a large pond, which has a statue of Neptune in the center and is surrounded by other statues that symbolize the four seasons; an English-style garden, the Palmeras Garden, with a three-tier fountain and irregular squares of hedge and with palm trees; the Spanish Garden, removed in 1960; the Paisajista Garden; the Lake – an irrigation pond that the vegetation tries to hide, making it look like a real lake, surrounded by two islets – the smallest for ducks and swans, the largest is a garden with hedges and a stone jetty with fake medieval ruins; the Nasrid Patio, built in 1944, which imitates the typical elements of Nasrid gardens; the wood-maze that served to join up the gardens.

Price: Free

Opening hours:

From April 1 to October 14

Monday to Friday from 10:00 am. to 14:00 pm. and 18:00 pm. to 20:00 pm.

Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10:00 am. to 20:00 pm.

From October 15 to March 31

Monday to Friday from 10:00 am. to 14:00 pm. and 16:00 pm. to 18:00 pm.

Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10:00 am. to 18:00 pm.

Costa del Sol Malaga, Andalusia

Costa del Sol Malaga, Andalusia

The sunny coast of Malaga

Endless beaches to stroll along, hidden coves, white villages that appear like a mirage in the middle of the mountains, historical landmarks with centuries of culture, afternoons spent shopping and evenings dining by the sea. These are the main ingredients of this region of Andalusia, where the mountain and the Mediterranean sea combine to create idyllic landscapes.

The birthplace of geniuses such as painter Pablo Picasso, it is well worth discovering the revamped city of Málaga, exploring the local culture of nearby towns and villages, and enjoying the exclusive restaurants.

 

A journey along the sunny coast

 

On a car journey of around 180 kilometres, it is possible to discover at a gentle pace some of the loveliest places in the coastal area. One essential stopping point is the capital of the province, which in recent years has invested heavily in a culture which, in addition to the Picasso Route, offers an interesting variety of museums: Pompidou Centre, Carmen Thyssen Museum, the Collection of the Russian Museum

It is lovely to take a stroll around this increasingly fashionable city and discover how the Alcazaba, the Castle of Gibralfaro and the Cathedral blend in with alternative urban art neighborhoods such as Soho, with terraces where you can enjoy brunch, or with streets like the Calle Larios for those who love to shop.

 

The pleasant temperatures all year round and our happy and friendly people will make you feel at home

 

Other coastal tourist spots with beaches where you can relax are Nerja, Torremolinos, Benalmádena, Fuengirola, Estepona and Marbella. This last location and the nearby Puerto Banús are ideal places to find haute couture brands, prestigious restaurants and beach clubs where you can lay back on a Balinese bed and watch the sun set.

For travelers looking to recharge their batteries or disconnect, there are luxury accommodation options with nutrition programs or boats to hire in the marinas.

Slow travel through the interior

The Costa del Sol seduces visitors with its cliffs, beaches, and coves and also surprises them with its stunning interior, home to villages of whitewashed houses with narrow, winding streets adorned with flowers and which conserve centuries-old traditions. They are built in the middle of the mountain range and discovering them means fully disconnecting in the heart of nature.

Among the most beautiful of these villages are Frigilana and its charming old quarter, Antequera and its stunning prehistoric dolmens, and Ronda and its mythical bridge over the cliff which, in their day, captured the hearts of figures such as Hemingway, Orson Welles -whose ashes are buried here- and Rike.

In addition to visiting these villages, we recommend a visit to some of the region’s wineries and attending a wine tasting, admiring the landscapes along the Caminito del Rey path or visiting nature reserves such as the Sierra de las Nieves or Sierra de Grazalema, staying in a centuries-old traditional Andalusian farmhouse or a rural house that offers massages and natural therapies, relaxing at historical spas such as the one in Tolox or the Carratraca thermal baths, and of course sampling the local cuisine with its unmistakable rural flavours.

Discovering La Axarquía Almost constant sunshine and warm water beaches. Delicious fish, pretty hotels and great nightlife – this and much more awaits you on the well-known Costa del Sol in Malaga. But you will also find an unparalleled paradise close to the Costa del Sol: La Axarquía. La Axarquía is the region of Malaga with the greatest number of municipalities, towns and villages which have kept all their flavour and traditional character. Steep narrow streets, barred windows with colourful pots and geraniums. Towns of Moorish origin that still preserve their secluded squares and fountains, with viewpoints overlooking the mountains. La Axarquía, a place filled with light and colour with a uniquely varied landscape: mountains, valleys, cliffs and coast. Labyrinths of olive trees, almond trees and vines, which fill the mountain landscape with life. Valleys sheltering fertile plains of fruit trees and vegetables around the river Vélez. Lemon and orange groves that surround the villages up to the foot of the mountain range. Thanks to the local products from land and sea, La Axarquía boasts a rich cuisine, dishes cooked with traditional recipes and with the utmost care. From the Sierra you can make out the coast, landscapes dotted with cliffs and coves, watchtowers and beaches. View of the village of Nerja View of the village of Nerja Cómpeta, Casares, Frigiliana, Nerja… a total of 31 beautiful Mudejar villages, each with its own charm. La Axarquía can be found in the Nature Park of the Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Mountains, where you can go hiking. From here you can start various routes such, for example, up to the top of La Maroma, the highest peak in La Axarquía at 2,068 metres, or enjoy the variety of recreational areas in an exceptional setting. To familiarise yourself with its traditions and customs, you can take various routes: the Mudejar Route, the Sun and Avocado Route, the Oil and Mountains Route, the Sun and Wine Route or the Raisin Route. In one of the towns of La Axarquía, Nerja, you will find one of the most visited natural monuments in Spain: the caves of Nerja. You can also visit places as curious as Baños de Vilo Spa, which came to be considered one of the most important in Andalusia in the 18th and 19th centuries. Peaceful villages where you can experience the traditions, ancient skills, and local festivals, surrounded by the charm of Andalusia.
20 Must-Visit Attractions in Seville, Spain

20 Must-Visit Attractions in Seville, Spain

20 Must-Visit Attractions in Seville, Spain
Santa Cruz, Seville | © Irina Sen/Shutterstock
Picture of Mark Nayler
MARK NAYLER

Seville has something for everyone. From its great Moorish and Catholic monuments to its historic bullring, and from great tapas bars to enchanting old neighbourhoods and giant wooden mushrooms, these are the top 20 attractions for you to seek out while you’re in the Andalusian capital.
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Royal Alcazar Palace

The internal courtyard of Seville’s Alcazar palace
The internal courtyard of Seville’s Alcazar palace | © pixabay

Along with the cathedral, Seville’s key architectural attraction is the Royal Alcázar Palace. Work on this great palace complex began in the 10th century, when the Umayyads built a Moorish fortress attached to the Roman city walls, but it was not until the 12th century that the first royal palace was built on the site, by the then-ruling Almohad Dynasty. Additions and renovations continued on and off until the 19th century, resulting in a structure that showcases a mix of Moorish, Renaissance and Mudéjar architecture, with the latter being particularly notable in the Mudéjar Palace. The upper floors of the Alcázar are the Spanish royal family’s Seville residence, making it Europe’s oldest continually used royal palace. Real Alcázar de Sevilla, Patio de Banderas, s/n, Seville, Spain, +34 954 50 23 24

Seville’s greatest Catholic monument amazes with its sheer size: it is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Construction of this sprawling Gothic complex, which houses 80 chapels and has the longest central nave in Spain, began in 1401 on the site of the city’s former mosque. Work continued for over 100 years, and in 1507 the cathedral was finally completed, having spectacularly succeeded in fulfilling the design team’s aim to make something ‘so beautiful and so magnificent that those who see it will think we are mad’.

Catedral de Sevilla, Av. de la Constitución, Seville, Spain, +34 902 09 96 92

Giralda Bell Tower
All that remains of Seville’s great mosque is part of its minaret, which is now the cathedral’s Giralda bell tower, another of Seville’s key architectural attractions. The minaret, which was built during the Almohad period, was originally topped with giant copper globes, but these fell off in an earthquake in 1365. The ruling conquistadors, perhaps interpreting their removal as a hint from the universe, decided to replace them with a Christian cross and bell tower. Except for the final section, which features stairs, the route to the top (for stunning views) is via ramps – supposedly so it can be reached by horseback, although it’s unclear whether this means you have to buy two tickets or just one.

View from the top of Seville’s iconic Giralda belltower
© AlmudenaCuesta/Pixabay

Casa de Pilatos
This beautiful 15th–16th-century mansion is one of central Seville’s hidden treasures, and its exquisite gardens, though smaller in scale, match anything you’ll see in the Alcázar. Begun by the wealthy conquistador and Mayor of Andalucia, Pedro Enriquez de Quiñones, in the late 1400s, Casa de Pilatos is another of Seville’s classic Mudéjar structures, built around a central courtyard in the traditional Andalusian style. Its name – Pilate’s House – was bestowed (hopefully with a touch of mockery) after Quiñones’ son Fadrique traveled to Jerusalem in 1519 and returned overflowing with enthusiasm for the Holy Land. The palace’s undeniable good looks have earned it a starring role in two films: 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia and 2010’s Knight and Day.

Casa de Pilatos, 1 Plaza de Pilatos, Seville, Spain, +34 954 22 52 98

Casa de Pilatos, Seville | © Sandra Vallaure/Flickr
Casa de Pilatos, Seville | © Sandra Vallaure/Flickr

Bullring
Seville’s Real Maestranza bullring is one of the most attractive and important plazas in Spain. Construction began in 1761 on the site of the city’s old rectangular plaza de Toros and was finally completed in 1881. Particularly attractive is the Prince’s Gate (the main entrance), the ornate black iron gates of which are the work of Pedro Roldan, and which were originally the property of a convent. Being carried through these on the shoulders of fellow matadors and the public is a mark of great triumph, and one of the highest honors attainable by a matador in Spain. The Maestranza’s excellent museum explores the history of bullfighting, and daily tours of the arena are available.

Plaza de Toros de Sevilla, 12 Paseo de Cristóbal Colón, Seville, Spain, +34 954 22 45 77

Bullfights
The audience that packs out Seville’s stately 18th-century bullring every time there is a bullfight is known to be the most demanding in Spain – and for good reason. Often, a kind of party atmosphere prevails in the stands during a bullfight: Spaniards turn up in big groups with picnic baskets crammed full of beer and sandwiches and make a social occasion of it, which can make concentrating on events in the ring difficult. In Seville, however, the bullfight is watched in studious silence, with applause and jeering meted out only when truly deserved. This makes for an ambiance of great intensity and drama and, if you choose to experience it for yourself, a truly unforgettable afternoon. The best time to see a bullfight here is during Seville’s annual April fair, more on which below.

Seville’s beautiful bullring
© tpsdave/Pixabay
Torre de Oro
Visible from any of Seville’s central bridges is the 13th-century watchtower known as the Torre de Oro, or the ‘Tower of Gold’. It was built by the Almohad rulers of Seville between 1220 and 1221 and has undergone several restorations over the intervening centuries, the most recent of which was in 2005. Nowadays, it houses Seville’s small but interesting Maritime Museum, which explores the importance of the Guadalquivir River and Atlantic to the Andalusian capital’s history.

Torre do Oro, Paseo de Cristóbal Colón, s/n, Seville, Spain

Torre do Oro, Seville | © Guenther49/Pixabay
Torre do Oro, Seville | © Guenther49/Pixabay

One of Seville’s Mudejar classics is the Plaza de España, a stunning development built-in 1928 in preparation for Seville’s hosting of the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. The half-moon-shaped building is fronted by a moat and borders on a plaza with a beautiful fountain at its center; it showcases a striking mix of Mudéjar and Renaissance styles, with splashes of Art Deco to be seen on the colorful façades. Boating can be enjoyed on the moat, which is spanned by four bridges representing the ancient kingdoms of Spain.

Plaza de España, Seville
Plaza de España, Seville | © bogitw/Pixabay
In preparation for Seville’s hosting of the Ibero-American Expo of 1929, the southern part of the city received a costly facelift. At the heart of this redevelopment was the Maria Luisa Park, a botanical garden and the Andalusian capital’s largest and most attractive area of greenery. It is a beautiful place to stroll in spring, when the park’s many species of plants and flowers are in bloom and when the local residents – doves, parrots, ducks and swans – are on display. Stretching along the banks of the Guadalquivir, its half-mile of shaded walkways, tiled fountains, ponds and tropical foliage is also home to the Mudéjar Pavillion, in which the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions of Seville can be found.

Seville’s impressive Archive of the Indies
Seville’s impressive Archive of the Indies | Sandra Vallaure/Flickr

Documenting the Golden Age of the Spanish Empire that followed Christopher Columbus’s exploration of the Americas in 1492 is Seville’s Archive of the Indies, a must-see for history boffins. These UNESCO-protected 16th-century buildings house some 80 million documents relating to the Spanish Empire of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, a period when Seville was the empire’s most important city. If you think that sounds like a little too much reading for one afternoon, fear not: as well as the beautiful old books and the palatial buildings themselves, other sights here include a 17th-century cannon, maps charting the entire Spanish Empire and several paintings by Goya.

Old books on the Spanish Empire in Seville’s Archive of the Indies
Old books on the Spanish Empire in Seville’s Archive of the Indies | © Adam Jones/Flickr

Al Aljibe is one of the best tapas bars on the Alameda de Hercules, Seville’s trendiest and most popular nightspot. The restaurant boasts a romantic and secluded first-floor terrace overlooking the Alameda, as well as an exclusive rooftop patio with just a few tables. Bear in mind that only full plates or “raciones”  are served on the rooftop seating area, although ordering bigger portions of Aljibe’s incredible food won’t be a problem. Customers rave about the ox burger, the fried cod with vegetables and the duck and brandy paté. Inside, there is seating spread over two floors, but it’s always worth reserving a table, especially in the evenings. Aljibe’s location and food have made it one of the most popular high-class tapas places in town.

If a tapas restaurant on the Alameda de Hercules is having to turn customers away of an evening, that’s a sign it’s doing something pretty special. This is the case with La Mata 24, a classy establishment that is often packed to capacity after 9pm. The style is pan-Mediterranean rather than Spanish, and all the dishes are prepared with an inventiveness that can be lacking in Seville’s more traditional tapas restaurants. The wine list and service are highly recommended, and the bar hosts regular exhibitions of work by local and non-local artists, making it a must if you’re hanging out in this lively part of Seville.

Mercado de Triana
Mercado de Triana | © Karan Jain/Flickr

Triana is Seville’s former Gypsy quarter and one of the city’s most distinctive attractions. From its pretty, myth-laden streets have come some of the most influential bullfighters of the last couple of centuries, including the legendary Juan Belmonte, one of the greatest matadors in the history of bullfighting. Its colourful, quaint streets are lined with old-style tapas bars, the walls of which are often plastered with faded bullfighting posters, photos of flamenco artists and weeping Virgin Marys. It is also known for its locally made ceramics, which adorn the walls of its old, whitewashed houses, and one of Seville’s best and most lively markets, the Mercado de Triana.

Bar Bodega Santa Cruz
This lively tavern is one of the best in central Seville and is a great place to start your exploration of the romantic, intriguing neighborhood of Santa Cruz. Owing to the scarcity of outside seating, it always seems as if a spontaneous street party is going on outside, with eaters and drinkers taking over the pavement in front of the bar. The food and drink offering is traditional, with a range of wines and sherries available, as well as excellent tapas at about €2 a pop. It’s particularly good for an early evening stop-off when the atmosphere is joyfully chaotic. Bodega Santa Cruz, 1A Calle Rodrigo Caro, Seville, Spain, +34 954 21 16 94

Santa Cruz
Surrounding the central plaza on which Seville’s mighty cathedral squats is the charming old Jewish neighborhood of Santa Cruz, one of Andalusia’s most iconic barrios. This was the neighborhood into which Ferdinand III confined the city’s Jewish population when he took the city from the Moors in 1248; nowadays, it’s the heart of historic Seville and the first place many tourists head to. In this maze of narrow cobbled streets and achingly romantic squares are to be found some of the city’s best tapas bars and flamenco joints, but just to wander around Santa Cruz (almost certainly getting lost, if it’s your first time) is an experience in itself.

A typical street in Seville’s Santa Cruz
© Irina Sen/Shutterstock

Slightly surly service is the price to pay for enjoying sweet wines, sherry and tapas in this local institution. La Bodega is well established on the tourist route in Santa Cruz but Sevillanos love it too, piling in in huge groups from about 2 pm for lunch and about 9pm for dinner. These are the best times to head to La Bodega for a glass of the signature manzanilla (old barrels are scattered around the place) and a plate of their excellent tapas, either crammed in amongst Sevillanos at the bar or, if you’re lucky, at one of the tables.

Romeo and Juliet Balcony
Winding along beside the Alcázar in the heart of Santa Cruz is a narrow, shaded alleyway called Calle Agua, named after a mini-aqueduct that used to run along the top of the Moorish palace’s walls. This mysterious path brings you out onto the absurdly romantic Plaza Alfaro, always busy with tourists pointing their cameras upwards and snapping away at the building said to have inspired the balcony scene in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Whether this tale is apocryphal or not, it’s easy to imagine a latter-day Romeo scaling the beautiful facade to reach the object of his desire.

Plaza Alfaro, Seville, Spain

Seville’s Romeo and Juliet building | © Encarni Novillo
Seville’s Romeo and Juliet building | © Encarni Novillo

Feria de Abril
The Feria de Abril, Seville’s legendary fiesta, takes place two weeks after Easter and is one of Andalusia’s biggest fairs. This week-long party has left its humble 19th -century cattle-market beginnings long behind, and its sanded fairground – or recinto – now hosts over 1,000 individual marquees, or casetas, every year. Run by local charities, businesses and collectives, these casetas are where the locals dance and drink until the small hours of the morning, every night for a week. Although the vast majority of the marquees are private and require an invitation for entry, there are several public casetas which are just as much fun. If you’re planning a visit to Seville in spring, make sure you plan it to coincide with this annual extravaganza.

Las Setas Metropol Parasol
Visitors enjoy the views of Seville from the Metropol Parasol | © Zefrog / Alamy Stock Photo
One of Seville’s most popular – and unusual – attractions is The Metropol Parasol, known locally as Las Setas, or ‘the Mushrooms’, because of the distinctive shape of its vast wooden canopies and supporting pillars. When work started on the Mushrooms in 2005, Roman remains were found underneath Plaza Encarnación, making construction a lengthy and controversial process. To preserve the extensive remains, which can be seen on the lower ground floor, these enormous wooden fungi are supported on just a few elegant white pillars above the square. On the monument’s roof, a winding walkway provides stunning views over the city, especially at sunset.

Las Setas de Sevilla, Pl de la Encarnación, s/n, Seville, Spain, 0034 954 56 15 12

Situated underneath the vast canopies of Seville’s Setas on the popular Plaza de la Encarnación is Los Alcazares, one of the best tapas joints in central Seville. From its small, traditional bar room or outside terrace you can watch life unfold on the busy plaza while sipping on a cold beer or sweet manzanilla. Alcazares is popular with tourists, but the old-fashioned décor (think bullfighting and fiesta posters) and its popularity with nearby office workers who stop in for a quick tapas and beer at lunchtime mean it doesn’t feel touristy.

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Abd Al-Rahman III

Abd Al-Rahman III

It required a powerful personality to maintain and assert the integrity of al-Andalus: it came in the figure of Abd al-Rahman III (ruled 912-961), the most dominant of all the Umayyad rulers of al-Andalus. Under him, and his son al-Hakam II, and the vizier al-Mansur (de facto ruler under Hisham II), al-Andalus reached the pinnacle of its power, with its influence extending beyond the Pyrenees and well into North Africa. Abd al-Rahman III (b. 889-d. 961) Abd al-Rahman succeeded his grandfather, Abdullah ibn Muhammad, as emir at the age of 23, his father having been murdered at Ibn Muhammad’s orders as a result of palace intrigue. (Abd al-Rahman would in turn himself order one of his sons beheaded in his presence; such were the vagaries and severity of palace politics.) Despite being the greatest Umayyad ruler of al-Andalus, Abd al-Rahman III’s immediate pedigree was almost as much Christian as it was Moorish, since both he and his father were sons of Christian princesses from Navarra ** This, in fact, made Abd al-Rahman distant cousin to some Christian princes, e.g. Sancho el Craso, king of León, who even went to Córdoba to seek the help of Abd al-Rahman in 958 after having been deposed! . And physically Abd al-Rahman didn’t fit the Moorish mould: he had fair skin, blue eyes and reddish hair, which he used to dye black in order to look more Arabic. He was also a fluent speaker of the early Spanish spoken in those days. Abd al-Rahman III’s greatest success was to impose his presence on al-Andalus and unite it as it had never been before. By sheer force of personality he reined in dissidents, placed trusted men in control of restless areas and directed his country’s energies against his enemies. In North Africa a new threat surfaced in the form of the Fatimids, a Muslim state whose leaders claimed to be direct descendants of the Prophet through his daughter Fátima. Having established their capital on the North African coast (in modern Tunisia) in 910, they posed a challenge to Umayyad (i.e. Córdoba’s) influence in the Maghreb (North West Africa). In reply, Abd al-Rahman strengthened his navy, and set up or reinforced naval bases along the Mediterranean coast of al-Andalus. He also established outposts in the Maghreb and cultivated friendship with the Berber tribes of the region. The Fatimid threat remained until they transferred their capital to Egypt, and founded Cairo in 969/70. Quite possibly in response to the Fatimid challenge, Abd al-Rahman III declared himself “Caliph,” i.e. successor to Muhammad, in 929, a move that confirmed at the same time what had been the de facto independence of Córdoba from the Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad for almost 200 years. At the same time that he attended to the Fatimid challenge, Abd al-Rahman occupied himself with suppressing rebellion within al-Andalus. In the south, he inherited the insurgence of Ibn Hafsun, an apostate who rallied support from other dissidents and claimed control over a large area of western Andalusia from his mountain stronghold, Bobastro, deep in the Sierra de Ronda. Ibn Hafsun died undefeated in 917 and the revolt was continued by his sons until their defeat in 927. Abd al-Rahman got a measure of personal, if belated revenge, by having Ibn Hafsun’s remains exhumed and strung up in Córdoba between the bodies of his sons. The chronicler Ibn Hayyan (born in Córdoba in 978) later described the scene with some relish: “Al-Nasir (the throne name of Abd al-Rahman) ordered his vile corpse to be brought out of its burial place, and his filthy and impure limbs to be carried to … the Gate in Córdoba, and hung up there on the highest of tall stakes … between the stakes of his two sons who had been crucified there before him….” (Melville & Ubaydli 35). Al-Andalus. Here called Caliphate of Cordoba, i.e. post 929. The situation in the north was somewhat different in that Abd al-Rahman was faced both with continuing incursions by various Christian kingdoms and with dubious loyalty from Muslim governors along the border. A policy of raids (razzias) against Christians sometimes found Abd al-Rahman facing rebel Muslims who had allied themselves with his enemies, e.g. the joint forces of the kingdoms of León and Navarra in the battle of Simancas in 939 (in which Abd al-Rahman not only suffered a heavy defeat but also lost a precious copy of the Qur’an belonging to him; it was also the last battle that he personally headed). Nevertheless, the defeat at Simancas was a temporary setback, and raids into Christian lands continued, but now headed by his generals. Expeditions of this kind were not unusual under his predecessors, but under Abd al-Rahman they acquired greater significance since by the 10th century the Christians had made considerable territorial gains, especially towards the west where they had repopulated a large part of the Duero valley. And yet the Moorish raids were just that, raids rather than attempts at conquest. Religion was not a major factor in these razzias, although there were indications of religious overtones in, e. g., the comments of Abd al-Rahman’s historian that his lord was a “warrior in a holy cause” (Fletcher 58), or in the common perception in the Muslim world that Spain was “the land of the jihad” (Fletcher 61). The Muslim raids served several functions, not the least of which were the rewards of plunder, by means of which state treasury could be replenished. In addition, the ransom of captives was always a lucrative business, and northern women were highly prized for the harems. The raids could also serve to punish Christian leaders (e.g. García, King of Navarre) for breaking agreements, at the same time that they provided military experience for Berbers and other newcomers to the army (e.g. mercenaries, volunteers, slaves). Finally, the regular appearance of loyal soldiers crossing border areas was a salutary reminder of Abd al-Rahman’s presence and power, and provided a useful check on the activities of ambitious local governors. Sources.