We started driving from Barcelona on a Wednesday afternoon, taking the N340 to Valencia and arrived in the city just after 10.30 pm.
We knew the city was famous for its paella, so we wanted to have one for dinner on our first night on the road. Unfortunately, Valencia is not Barcelona, and most restaurants had already closed once we went out at 11 pm, so instead of paella we ended up with a bocadillo at Placa de la Mare de Déu where some restaurants were still open.
However, we discovered another Valencian special that you cannot miss: Agua de Valencia. This sweet and strong cocktail is made of Cava or Champagne, orange juice, Wodka and Gin – and simply delicious.
When you are in Valencia, a must-see is of course the City of Arts and Science. This huge leisure centre is set in the former riverbed of the Turia river which has been turned into a park. Walking here, next to orange trees and singing birds, you can get to the Ciudad in about half an hour. Finished in 2005, the futuristic building it is worth a visit even if you don't want to go inside.
Upon leaving the capital of paella, we wanted to give it another try and ordered some portions to go. Bad surprise: this one was made of pasta instead of rice…
Insider tip: Paella is best eaten the way Valencianos do, at lunchtime and on a terrace over looking the beach. This experience can't be rushed – which is why, in the end we failed to achieve it!
Next stop after a whopping six hours on the road was Seville, a nighttime stroll through the old city more than made up for all of the day's hassle. You can't help falling in love with this place when wandering through the narrow cobblestone streets lined with small houses in pastel colours.
The city centre of Seville is part of the UNESCO world heritage and the city receives a lot of money to maintain it. So, this means that the atmosphere of the old city is as charming today as it must have been some centuries ago.
The Seville cathedral is one of the most popular destination for tourists and you mustn't leave without climbing the tower to enjoy unrivalled views across the whole of the city.
INSIDER TIP: If you want to save time here and beat the queues, you can buy a combined ticket at the church Plaza Don Salvador, which also gives you access to the Cathedral. It costs the same as entry to the Cathedral with the bonus that you can also discover this beautiful church.
In order to experience “typical” Sevillan culture you might want to try Vino de Naranja, orange wine. It is an incredibly sweet desert wine typical for the region and we found it nowhere else – and, of course, Tapas, which are cheaper and come in bigger portions here than in the rest of Spain.
You can't leave Seville without taking in some flamenco! There are many places that offer shows every day of the week, prices ranging usually from 10-25 €. We decided to try a free show at a La Carboneria. If you want to go there – and it is worth a visit – you should arrive early before the show starts as space is limited and free flamenco is very popular.
Early the next day, we visited the Real Alcázar, a palace famous for its Islamic architecture and ornaments.
The area includes several gardens, each designed in a different style with fountains and a maze and we even saw some peacocks calmly strolling around the tourist groups.
In order to visit everything, you should allow at least two hours and give yourself some more time to sit in the sun for a moment and imagine yourself living here while listening to the gentle lapping of the fountains.
INSIDER TIP: The queue is usually long but for one additional euro you can book your ticket online (one or two days in advance should be enough) and skip the queue. Otherwise just get there early for the opening hour (9.30 am) and at least in winter you won't have to wait more than 45 minutes.
From Seville it takes two hours to drive to Ronda, a small town in the mountains next to a giant canyon, El Tajo. There is also an archaeological site called Ciudad Romana de Acinipo, about 20 minutes away from the city. Unfortunately, the site closes at 2.30 pm and we arrived too late to enter, but also in the city itself there is so much too see, and the jewel in the crown is. El Puente Nuevo, a16th century that straddles the deep gorge.
Calculate two or three hours to walk through the city if you don't want to rush – and you won't!
From Ronda, we drove two more hours to get to Málaga where we fell asleep in total exhaustion and left early for Granada the next morning.
Granada is beautiful because of its setting in the mountains, especially the views of Sierra Nevada in the distance, not to forget the narrow alleys in the Arab quarter Sacromonte and the famous Albaicín neighbourhood. As we were more than tired of tapas after three days in Andalucia, we were happy to discover the numerous Arabic food stalls and restaurants in Calle Elvira where you can get anything from a cheap Falafel sandwich to a fancy Menú del Día Moroccan style.
In the afternoon, we strolled through quiet Sacromonte, surrounded by the soft spring air and the Alhambra always just a turn of the head away.
We visited the cuevas, caves that are carved into the mountain which used to be the home of the “gypsy” communities in Spain in the 19th century. Nowadays, they host hippies, outcasts and basically anyone who would like to live in a cave. You can also visit a museum that explains how people used to live here.
From the top of Sacromonte, you can see the sun set over the Alhambra and the whole city. It is less crowded there than at the famous Mirador de San Nicolás and it is also higher.
On the other hand, our friends who went to the other viewpoint experienced a spontaneous Flamenco show, so you decide which one you prefer!
Day six started with a self-organized walking tour through the city. We used Sygic travel, an App that helps you with creating routes of interesting places in the city. We finished ours with the Alhambra.
It takes less than half an hour to climb up the hills on which the ancient fortress is set. The problem when visiting it is that you have to book your ticket far ahead of time. Calculate weeks or even months. There is also a limited number of tickets sold at the door everyday, but in order to secure one, you need to get there very early.
Even without a ticket, you can visit Generalife palace that is part of the building complex, and also the surrounding gardens with small fountains on the way are beautiful.
From Granada, we drove to Gorafe desert. It is less than an hour away from the city and basically a canyon surrounded by rock formations.
You get beautiful views even though the term “desert” might be misleading as the 5,5 km hiking trail goes in between the canyon on the left and green grass an blossoming trees on the right.
We then headed north again to Alicante where we would spend a night only in order not to have to drive twelve straight hours back to Barcelona. When we got to the city, we were surprised by the view of a giant rock that dominated the views over the city. Around midnight, we walked through the neighbourhood of Santa Cruz, a residential are with beautiful houses, and to the beach, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful city beaches in the whole country.
On the top of the mountain, there is an old castle, open from 10 am to 10 pm for free. After watching the sunrise at the beach we took the car to drive up. From above, we had a beautiful view over the city and the sea. The site was rather empty and it was almost completely quiet except for the seagulls that were sunbathing on the rocks. We left Alicante early because we had to get back in time in order to return the car, but I think we all felt some regret.
The last day brought another pleasant surprise. We finally had our paella during our lunch break in Castellón.
After stuffing ourselves with the famous rice dish, we ordered the last typical drink of the trip, a curious sweet (what else!) Coffee-Whiskey-Mix called Carajillo.
As the waiter explained to us with a suggestive wink, this version was called Carajillo Tanga. If we got him right, the name comes from the fact that the drink contains only a thin stripe of coffee and a lot of Whiskey. It is strongly recommended to anyone celebrating the end of six days on the road, except for the driver.
TIPS FOR A ROADTRIP
Be prepared to spend a lot of money on tolls if you are travelling on the main highway. From Barcelona to Valencia the cost on the AP7 comes out at around 30 €. If you have more time, you can use the smaller roads without tolls – check a navigation App to see which roads are free. The word peaje or the letter P in road names on street signs means that you will have to pay.
We managed to drive over 2000 km without paying any tolls.
Parking was difficult in every single city, not only due to the fact that we were driving a big car. On the first day in Valencia, we were fined 200 € for parking at a place that was reserved for scooters. If this happens to you, pay within 20 days and the fee will be reduced by 50 per cent.
We found that in the city centres it was so hard to find a space on the street – and in Seville restrictions mean you have to move the car by 7am – that we ended up parking in public car parks.
The fixed amount for 24 hours ranges between €15 – €20.
Taking in the views over Alicante.
Words and photos by Leslie Fried / The Local Spain