The Alhambra marks the start of a drive taking in historic cities, a river valley and mountains and ends in Almeras spaghetti western desert

Granada is dominated by its mighty Moorish fortress, the Alhambra. Book ahead and visit early, at its least-crowded, and then spend the afternoon meandering the narrow streets and plazas of the old town the Albaicn. Stay in this area at the 16th-century Santa Isabel La Real, with its Alhambra views, (doubles from 95 B&B, parking available).

Spain map

On day two, take in the Alhambras Nasrid palaces, Generalife and the Alcazaba before driving north-west through rolling olive country to picturesque Priego de Crdoba (N-432 & A-339, 76km). The town is a restful place to be, and feels like the essence of Andaluca; its Barrio de la Villa is a labyrinth of fountains, churches, geraniums, with castle and panoramic views. Take all that in while staying at quaint Hotel Zahor (double from 55 B&B).

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Priego de Crdoba. Photograph: Alamy

Day three and its time to head north-east to the twin world heritage cities of Baeza and beda, both miniature gems (and renovated in the Renaissance period) designed to keep Moors, then Christians, then Moors at bay, and only 9km apart. (A-333 and Autova del Olivar A-316, 126km). Break the journey in Jan to tour Castilla de Santa Catalina and visit the well-preserved Arab Baths.

In Baeza, be sure to walk the Calle de San Pablo, take in the sweeping views from Paseo de las Murallas, and eat around the Plaza de la Constitucin. beda is famous for ceramics: visit Alfarara Tito on Calle Valencia, a street also blessed with several delis selling fine olive oils. Both cities are full of architectural treasures, so allow two nights. Stay in Baeza at Hotel Puerta de la Luna (doubles from 73, room-only) or drive onto beda and Palacio de la Rambla with its fine patio and intricately carved masonry (doubles from 132 B&B) or Santa Mara de beda (doubles from 85 B&B).

Promenade
Plaza de la Constitucin, Baeza. Photograph: Ventura Carmona/Getty Images

The short drive to Cazorla marks the start of day five. Its the southern gateway to the Sierras of Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas, the largest reserve in Spain (south-east on A315 and A319, 45km, 45mins). Stay a night at Casa Rural Plaza de Santa Maria (doubles from 50 B&B), beside the tourism office by a ruined church and cafes, and the start of multiple well-marked walking trails (from 3km to 20km long) with magnificent views of Castillo de la Yedra.

On day six drive the spectacular route (A-319, 17km) up and over mountains into the dappled valley of the Guadalquivir River, passing La Iruela (with its castle on a crag), and down into a tranquil enclosed world, thick with birds, smelling of pine, dominated by the wide, clear, burbling river. Allow four days here as theres so much to explore.

Castle
La Iruela castle. Photograph: Saturnino Perez Garrido/Alamy

The valley is just under 60km long. Most trails, campsites, hotels, and adventure tour operators are concentrated in the southern third. Be sure to visit Restaurante El Taxidermista (in open woodland setting, 3km south of Torre del Vinagre) and the Museo Etnogrfico de Artes y Costumbres Populares del Parque Natural. Adventure tour companies in Arroyo Fro offer riding, hiking and off-road 4×4 excursions, and trips to the swimming holes around Coto Ros. Stay at Hotel Coto del Valle de Cazorla (doubles from 95, room-only), where wild boar often forage at dusk.

Head north to kayak on the reservoir at El Tranco and for the best views in the park from the peak of Yelmo (1,809 metres). Stay at the lovely Camping Rural El Robledo (pitches 6 including car, or double cabins from 50-60), set in pines, 10 minutes south of arguably the parks most spectacular village, Segura de la Sierra.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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